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Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, Texas: A Life-Changing Experience

Marys Cafe Strawn Texas


I don’t consider myself an expert on many things, certainly nothing that could be called terribly important or would improve humanity in any significant way. I have no special knowledge that will change people’s lives, and no marketable skills that have as yet added many zeroes to the end of my bank account, but one of the things I do know is the food of my native state.

The wait is over! I have arrived.

My life has been a quest. Not a quest that would lead to fame of fortune, but a quest to find Texas’ best cuisine. In past posts I’ve covered some of my favorite places for Tex-Mex, and the very best barbecue to be found anywhere (The Salt-Lick), but today I’ll be talking about that most Texan of all foods, the chicken fried steak. While there are many establishments that produce a fine version of this Texas classic, the top of the list would have to be Mary’s Café in Strawn, Texas.

Like all quests, this one is not without it’s trials and tribulations, but going through them is the test one must pass to be deemed worthy.  In the case of Mary’s, the trial involved is the drive, which, from most places, is considerable. Strawn is roughly 75 miles west of Fort Worth on I-20, so it’s not exactly around the corner, but trust me, it’s well worth the drive.

My friends, I give you the biggest MEDIUM chicken fried steak I’ve ever seen. It was DELICIOUS!

The chicken fried steak can be ordered in small, medium, or large, and comes with a serving of mashed potatoes the size of a small mountain, toast and a side salad. On our visit, my wife and I both ordered the medium, and we took home enough steak and potatoes to have an enormous lunch the next day. Truth be told, if we had ordered the small, we would have had plenty left for a proper lunch.

While most restaurants that boast a huge chicken fried steak provide more crust than steak, Mary’s steak is a perfect combination of breading and meat. It is fried to perfection with just the right amount of seasoning and would be wholly enjoyable by itself, but in Texas that would be near sacrilegious, so it is served with a large side of cream gravy that is pure perfection itself. The mashed potatoes are blended with sour cream, which I am not opposed to, but if I had one complaint, it would be that there was a touch too much sour cream in mine. That one small complaint aside, I will have to concur with all of those who put the chicken fried steak from Mary’s at the top of their list. For those who, for whatever reason, don’t care for chicken fried steak, there are plenty of other offerings on the menu, which I’m sure are equally delicious, but to me that would be like going to my favorite barbecue spot and ordering a salad.

                Mary’s Café is located at: 119 Grant Ave. Strawn, Texas 76463

                I started this post by stating that whatever expertise I might possess would not be capable of improving humanity or changing lives, but on second thought, a trip to Mary’s might just accomplish both. Now that you are suitably hungry and probably plugging Strawn into your phone for directions, I will sign off by thanking you for your loyal readership. Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©04/05/2018 Under the Lone Star LLC

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Elizabeth Lizzie Johnson: The Real “Cattle Queen” of Texas


Carving a life out of the Texas frontier took extremely brave and strong people, both men and women. History has definitely highlighted the achievements of the men, but behind every one of them, there was a woman sharing the same hardships. They had to be wife, mother, cook, seamstress, doctor, barber, and on top of all that, when the men were away for extended periods, they had to do all of his chores as well. This post is dedicated to all of those unsung heroes without whom the Texas frontier would never have been settled, but in this post, I will be highlighting an amazing woman who did achieve a fair amount of notoriety in her time.

During the early to mid-1800’s, the cattle industry began to boom in Texas, and while many cattle barons were made along the way, several women made there mark as well. The title “Cattle Queen,” was given to several different women, and in their own way, each of them certainly earned the name, but as I searched the histories of the amazing women, I found one whom I believe deserves the title more than anyone else. Not only did Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson operate a cattle business, but she was involved in every aspect of building her cattle operation, matching and even surpassing the successes of her male counterparts.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson

Lizzie Johnson was born in 1840 and moved with her parents to Texas at the age of four. Her parents were educators and her father owned a school along Bear Creak in Hays County. After graduating from Chapel Hill Female College in Washington County, she began teaching at her father’s school. Lizzie went on to teach at several other schools in the Austin area before eventually starting her own school in a two-story house she bought in Austin. During the 1800’s, it was very uncommon for women to buy property, but it was almost unheard of for one to run their own school. It was considered well and good for women to teach children, but the difficult work of administering the curriculum was a job for men.

Lizzie was not only smart and hardworking, she was ambitious as well, and she began writing articles for magazines and working as a bookkeeper on the side to make extra money. While keeping the books for various ranchers, she began learning all she could about the cattle business, and Lizzie was a remarkably quick study. With the extra money she was earning, she began investing in land and cattle, building a herd that would have been the envy of any rancher. Most stockman of the day were more than content to hire a team of drovers to move their cattle to market, but not Lizzie, she accompanied her cowboys up the Chisolm Trail not just once, but several times.

Lizzie and Hezekiah Williams

During the 1870’s, Lizzie fell in love with Hezekiah Williams, and on June 8, 1879, the couple were married. While all evidence suggests that she really did love the man, Lizzie the business woman was not going to risk losing all that she had built. She insisted that they sign a prenuptial agreement, ensuring that her assets were completely separate from his. Ever the tough businesswoman, on cattle drives she even directed that her cattle were to be physically separated from those of Hezekiah.

Her business acumen was only matched by her husband’s lack of it, and while she was considered an iron lady when it came to money, she never failed to bail him out when his ventures inevitably failed. Once, while conducting a land deal in Cuba, Hezekiah was taken hostage, and Lizzie paid the $50,000.00 ransom, proving that her love for him would always win out over sound business.

Lizzie and Hezekiah Williams

When Hezekiah died in 1914, Lizzie took it very hard, and when commenting on the $600.00 coffin she bought, she said, “I loved this old buzzard this much.” After her husband’s death, she lived the life of a miserly hermit and rarely left the small apartment she lived in above one of her buildings. Lizzie Johnson died on October 9, 1924, leaving an estate valued at more than $250,000.00. She not only invested in land and cattle, but also diamonds and other jewels apparently, because while cleaning out her various properties, her heirs found stashes of both.

Elizabeth Johnson was a strong woman who broke down many barriers of her day and not only survived in a tough world, but also thrived. While speaking of amazing women, I want to thank the amazing woman in my life. Most of what you see at Under the Lone Star is due to my wife, who works tirelessly every day to make sure that my writing efforts see the light of day. I had a crazy dream to be a writer, and she has done everything she can to see that dream come true.  To her, I again say thank you!  Until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.


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Christopher Columbus Slaughter: A Man of Vision


Hey, friends. We’re only a month into 2018, but it’s already been a busy year at Under the Lone Star, and while we have great things planned, none of it would be possible without you. Thanks as always for your readership.

Have you ever wondered how Texas went from lawless wilderness to becoming the economic powerhouse it is today? It happened the same way the United States went from being just thirteen British colonies to a global superpower, because men and women of vision risked everything to achieve their dreams. One such man is the subject of today’s blog.

          Christopher C. Slaughter

Christopher Columbus Slaughter was born in Sabine County, Texas on February 9, 1837, and claimed to be the first male child born of marriage under the Republic of Texas. He was born less than a year after Texas won its independence from Mexico, and he certainly was not one to squander this hard-fought freedom.  History doesn’t reveal where Slaughter got his drive to succeed.  Perhaps it was from his parents, or maybe it was from the scores of settlers he saw pulling a living from the land despite the dangers faced on the Texas Frontier. No matter where it came from, he hit the ground running and would eventually become one of the richest men in Texas.

As a child, young Christopher worked cattle with his father, and by the age of twelve, he was helping the family drive a herd to their new ranch in Freestone County. He became such an expert at crossing the swollen Trinity River that he hired out to drovers moving cattle to Shreveport, and by his late teens, he had saved enough money to buy out his uncle’s interest in the family herd. As a natural entrepreneur, Slaughter learned everything he could about the cattle business, and observed that the Brazos River stock was superior to their own herd, so he persuaded his father to relocate their ranch further west in Palo Pinto County. There they developed a thriving trade selling cows to Fort Belknap and the local Indian Reservations.

During the wars with the Comanche, he joined the Texas Rangers and took part in the expedition that liberated Cynthia Ann Parker. He continued to serve with the Rangers during the Civil War, providing much needed protection from those seeking to take advantage of the fact that all the troops had been moved out of the state to take part in the war. In 1861, he married Cynthia Jowell and together they had five children. After her death in 1876, Slaughter married Carrie Averill in 1877, with whom he had four children.

        C. C. Slaughter home in Dallas

After the war, Slaughter led an expedition to Mexico in search of ranch land, but during the venture, he suffered an accidental gunshot that left him incapacitated. During his long recovery, he saw his fortune start to slip away, so in 1867, he organized a cattle drive to New Orleans. Along the way, he was able to make a deal for his herd with a packing company, selling them for thirty-five dollars a head and paid in gold.

Flush with cash, Slaughter began regular drives to Kansas City, Missouri, where he sold his cows for as much as forty-two dollars a head. With his fortune, he expanded his interests into cattle breeding and bought many acres of land in West Texas, including the Long S Ranch in 1877, which stretched from Plainview to Big Spring. Eventually he became one of the largest land owners in the state, and the largest tax payer. By the time he was done, he owned over one-million acres of land stretching across nine west Texas counties earning him the name “Cattle King of Texas.”


    First Baptist Church of Dallas

During the 1870’s, he diversified into banking, establishing both City Bank and American National Bank in Dallas. Christopher Columbus Slaughter was not only a rancher and businessman, but was also a devout Christian, and he used a large portion of his riches to help the church. He donated two-thirds of the cost for the construction of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and he also contributed to the establishment of the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium, which later became Baylor Hospital.

C.C. Slaughter breaking ground for the new Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium building, November 5, 1904.

In 1910, Slaughter suffered a serious hip injury that caused a steep decline in his health. Unable to maintain the rigorous demands of running his many businesses, he turned control of them over to his oldest son, George. On January 25, 1919, Christopher Columbus Slaughter died at his home in Dallas.

The history of Texas was built on the dreams and ambitions of ordinary people who put everything on the line to see their vision come to life.  It is these same types of visionaries that today are creating the history of future generations. What is dreamt today will become tomorrow’s reality. Until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.



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More than a Tradition: The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo


         Fort Worth Stock Show in 1922

Hey friends, it’s mid-January here in North Texas. The temperatures are dropping, and as I write this, there is ice in the forecast. This can mean only one thing. It’s Stock Show time!! It’s that time of year when everyone in Fort Worth, from lawyers to stock brokers, from salesmen to school teachers, are, if for only a few weeks, cowboys. They dust off their Stetsons and boots, load the family in the pick-up, and spend the day immersed in a tradition that’s been going on for 122 years. That’s one of the reasons I love living in Cowtown so much. We’re a modern, cosmopolitan city, but we’re never too far from our wild west roots, and we embrace our history. After all, what is history, but tradition, and what is tradition, but the affirmation of what makes a community and its people who and what they are. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show is much more than a few weeks of family fun. It represents the Texas spirit and what is best about Fort Worth and our heritage. It is also the oldest continuously running livestock show and rodeo.

Starting way back in 1896, several prominent businessmen, along with local ranchers, and representatives from the Armour & Company and Swift & Company meat packers, wanted to find a way to promote the local cattle industry. The first stock show was held in October 1896 in a large field with only a few trees for cover from the elements, but it was such a success that it was held again the following spring. For the first several years, it was known as the Texas Fat Stock Show, and tents were added so that the people and animals would be a bit more comfortable. At first, it was strictly a Texas affair, which drew visitors and contestants from farms and ranches all over the state, but over the next several years, it would draw people from all over the country, and eventually the world.

In 1908, the Northside Coliseum was built to house the Stock Show, which not only provided a more substantial venue for the event, but just ten years later, it allowed for the most important addition to the Stock Show, the now famous Stock Show Rodeo. Among other innovations, it was the first indoor rodeo and the first to feature Brahma bull riding, and remains a huge draw for the Stock Show to this day.

     Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo NOW

In 1944, the Stock Show was moved to the Will Rogers Memorial Center where it remains today, and over the years it has expanded to include multiple cattle barns and such technological advances as indoor plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. In 1978, the name was changed to the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, and it just seems to get better every year. Today, the Stock Show includes horse and cattle shows, a world class rodeo with thirty-six performances, hundreds of vendors selling their wares, and a carnival midway with games and rides. I’ve been attending the Stock Show since the late 70’s and now it is my privilege to build that same tradition with my own children. I hope it comes to mean as much to them as it does to me, so that one day they will carry on the tradition with their kids. This year, the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show runs from January 12th to February 3rd, so pay a visit and see why Fort Worth, Texas still lays claim to the title of “Where the West Begins.”

Don’t forget to check out my video blog and photos from my recent visit to the 2018 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on my Facebook Page Under the Lone Star and until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.



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A Home for Texas Heroes: The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas

At this point, I think my love of Texas and its history has been firmly established, so it should be no surprise that I happily promote any institution or organization with Texas history as its mission. Our history includes everything, from great military heroes to cowboys, from famous outlaws to brave lawmen. When it comes to great lawmen in Texas, the first thing that should spring to mind are the best of the best, the Texas Rangers. For me, the very mention of Texas Rangers, brings to mind men like Bigfoot Wallace, John Coffee “Jack” hays, Ben McCulloch, and Frank Hamer, and the tenacious spirit these men exhibited in the pursuit of law and order. From their inception in the 1820’s to the present day, the Rangers have embodied the rugged individualism, bravery, and commitment to duty that Texans pride themselves on. Texas Rangers are a focal point of my western novels, and I have spent many hours researching their history and the men who have worn the badge, which was originally formed from Mexican Pesos. In all of my research, The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas has been an invaluable resource. Through artifacts, documents, genealogical research, and educational programs, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum keeps the spirit and mission of the Texas Rangers alive for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

As an author of western novels with a slightly romantic bent, the notion of “one riot, one Ranger,” has always appealed to me, and while this motto may be more apocryphal than historically accurate, the spirit of this ideal has been alive and well in everyone who has worn the Ranger badge. The historical records of the Texas Rangers are also the history of Texas, and they closely parallel each other as Texas grew from a lawless frontier to economic powerhouse, and thankfully, every one of them also offers an endless supply of great story ideas.

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 1976 as a memorial for the 150th anniversary of the Texas Rangers. The complex included a small library which housed a few documents, service records, and photographs. Through the years the collection has grown, and with it, so has the inquiries for research, so now the museum employs a full-time research staff. The collection of records has grown so large that it’s recognized by the Texas Legislature as an official repository of archives for the state of Texas. For this reason, the Museum holds a special place in the hearts of people like my wife, whose passion is genealogy, and whose family line includes a former Texas Ranger.

The museum is divided into several galleries, which give various perspectives on the Rangers and some of their more memorable missions. From their search for the captured Cynthia Ann Parker to battles against prohibition era gangsters to modern investigations, photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal accounts give visitors the real stories. They also have an extensive collection of firearms used by the Rangers and criminals alike, and for an avid gun enthusiast like myself, it’s worth the trip to Waco just to see the historic guns. There is also a gallery of western art, as well as one with photographs of current Rangers, and at the end of the tour, there is a 45-minute documentary on the history of the Texas Rangers.

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm, and the last guest is admitted at 4:30pm.

Admission is:


Children-$3 (3-12)

Children under 6-free

Seniors (60)-$6

Military (with ID)- $6

Of all those that made Texas the great state it is, none have done more than the Texas Rangers, so no study of Texas history would be complete without learning about them and their exploits. The Museum offers a comprehensive look at the Rangers, but we should not forget that it began life as a memorial, so it also stands as a symbol of respect to a law enforcement agency and all those that have worn the badge. If a person is able to visit only one site of historical significance in Texas, they could not visit any better place to learn what Texas is all about than the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Now saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.


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A Most Unusual Christmas Story: The Cisco Texas Bank Robbery of 1927

Howdy y’all! The Christmas season is upon us, so first let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas. For this post I decided on a Christmas tale of sorts, but let me warn you, it contains precious little cheer or goodwill towards men. It is a tale of violence, desperation, greed, and vengeance, but it did take place at Christmastime and involved a man dressed as one of the most iconic characters of the season, so I don’t feel I’m going too far afield by going with this story.

Marshall Ratliff was a career criminal from Cisco, Texas, who had been arrested and sent to prison by Cisco Chief of Police, G.E. Bedford. Like most criminals, Ratliff was short on brains, so after being paroled, he figured his best option was to go back to his hometown, where he was widely known, and rob the local bank. For this job he enlisted the help of Henry Helms and Robert Hill, two friends he had known from prison. The group had also retained the services of a safe-cracker, but after he came down with the flu at the last moment, he was replaced by Louis Davis. It should be mentioned, that as a result of the bank robbery epidemic that was plaguing the Southwest during the 1920’s, the Texas Bankers Association had offered a $5,000.00 reward for anyone who shot a bank robber during the commission of a crime. It is not known for sure whether this reward was motivation for some of the events that transpired, but as a student of history, I’ve learned one truth that seems to apply ubiquitously, always follow the money.

On the morning of December 23, 1927 Marshall Ratliff walked down the main street of Cisco, Texas in a Santa Claus suit he had borrowed from the woman who owned the boarding house he had been staying at in Wichita Falls. Ratliff was a notorious criminal, and was very well known around town, so he decided that some sort of disguise would be in order. I’m not sure whether Mr. Ratliff had a sense of humor or if he just decided on a costume that would allow him to blend in.
It’s not surprising that as he walked towards the First National Bank, he attracted a large number of children anxious to speak with Santa Claus. To keep up his disguise, Ratliff eagerly indulged the kiddos and allowed them to follow him. Some even trailed behind him into the bank.

First National Bank of Cisco

Once inside the bank, Ratliff met up with Helms, Hill, and Davis, and all four immediately pulled their guns and demanded the bank’s money. While his partners held the customers at bay with their guns, Ratliff emptied the cashier drawers and then began gathering the money from the vault.

Chief George Bedford

Police chief Bedford was informed of the robbery, and immediately mobilized his men. Together they surrounded the bank and waited for the robbers to exit the building. No one is certain who fired the first shot, but whoever did, set-off a volley of bullets that seemed to come from every direction at once. Chief Bedford and officer Carmichael traded shots with the robbers as the entered the alley behind the bank. Many townspeople who had armed themselves, descended on the bank and began pouring fire into the building, striking one of the robbers, as well as several of the innocent bank employees and customers.
During the gun battle, Ratliff, Helms, Hill, and Davis, made their way out of the bank and into their car, using twelve year old Laverne Comer and ten year old May Robertson as shields. The only obstacle to their escape were Bedford and Carmichael, who stood their ground despite the hail of bullets being fired in their direction. Chief Bedford was shot five times and died on Christmas day, while officer Carmichael died from his wounds almost a month later. In all, there was an estimated two hundred bullet holes found in the bank, two police officers were dead, one bank robber, Davis, had been injured, along with six townspeople, though no one is quite sure who fired the shots that injured the innocent bystanders.

Officer George Carmichael


Henry Helms

The four robbers took off down Main Street pursued by the police and several cars full of armed townspeople. They traded gun fire with their pursuers for miles, eventually stopping to carjack another vehicle. Unfortunately for them, the kid they carjacked managed to pull the keys from the ignition before he left the car, so the robbers were forced to retreat back to their original vehicle. During this comedy of errors, Hill was struck by a rifle bullet, and they were forced to leave the wounded Davis and the money behind. The police and the mob ended the chase when they found the money, and Davis was transported to a hospital, but quickly died from his wounds.

Members of crowd that pursued robbers

The three remaining criminals made their way to Young County, which was patrolled by Sheriff’s Deputy Cy Bradford, who had achieved fame for taming the wild and lawless oil boom towns. He caught up with the robbers in an oil field. With a double-barreled shotgun and a handful of shells, Bradford shot all three fugitives, but was only able to capture Ratliff.
Helms and Hill were finally captured in Graham, Texas on December 30 without incident. Helms received the death penalty and was executed in the electric chair. Hill was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison, but was paroled in the 1940’s, and against all odds, he went on to become a productive citizen.

Marshall Ratcliff

Marshall Ratliff was convicted of murder for the deaths of Bedford and Carmichael and sentenced to death. On November 19, 1928, while he was awaiting execution in the Eastland County jail, a mob formed and dragged him out of his cell. Ratliff was taken to a lot behind the Majestic Theatre and lynched. A grand jury was formed to look into the lynching, but no one was ever tried for it, and the case just went on to become part of the vast tapestry that is Texas lore.
So ended what was the largest manhunt in Texas history, and what would become known as the Santa Claus Bank Robbery. I warned you it wouldn’t be your typical feel good Christmas story, but you’ve got to admit, it makes for quite an amazing tale and is quintessentially Texas. Until next time, thank you very much for supporting Under the Lone Star. Your readership means more to me than you can possibly know. Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!


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The Cowboy Spirit Alive in Cowtown

The reasons I am proud to call Fort Worth home are too numerous to list, but at the top of the list has to be Fort Worth’s heritage as king of the cattle towns, and its official designation as Cowtown. It should come as no surprise that I love westerns. Movies, television, books, it makes no difference. I love them all, and have since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of watching the Lone Ranger, the Rifleman, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke on Saturday afternoons. My childhood hero (actually, he’s still my hero) was not an athlete, or a rock star, but John Wayne. Yes, the Duke himself. The western characters he portrayed epitomized everything I believed a good man should be; brave, honest, and selfless. In short, I idolized the Hollywood cowboy. Once I grew up and became addicted to American history, I discovered that the image I grew up watching in the movies and on TV, bore very little resemblance to the real thing. However, unlike most people who finally meet their heroes, when I discovered the true history of the cowboy, I was even more impressed with the men. These were men who gambled everything on the vagaries of the open range, just to make enough money to survive to the next year so they could do it all again. In the process of battling weather, harsh terrain, Indians, outlaws, and a hundred other things that could kill or maim, they built an industry and a way of life that continues to stir the imagination a hundred and fifty years later.

Until I was a teenager I had no idea that there was an actual real, tangible, connection to the world of the nineteenth century cowboy right in my home town. When I was sixteen, I visited the Fort Worth Stockyards for the first time, and I was in awe. It looked exactly like the Old West towns I grew up watching, right down to the saloons, boardwalks, and even the occasional gunfight in the street (staged, of course).

Home to some of Fort Worth’s most historic locations, such as the White Elephant Saloon, the Stockyards Hotel, and Miss Molly’s Hotel, the Stockyards gives visitors an entertaining yet authentic look at Fort Worth’s wild and wooly past. A twice daily cattle drive through the stockyards offers a quick glimpse of what it was like to drive a herd of unruly cows to market, and if that’s not enough excitement, hang around for the staged gunfights that follow the cattle drive every Saturday and Sunday. Take it from me, kids love it, as well as the kid in all of us. The full old west experience wouldn’t be complete without a guided horseback ride, which you can arrange at Stockyard Station. The horses are all seasoned trail horses and the rides are led by experienced guides, so it is a fun time for even the most novice cowboys.

If shopping is more your thing, the Stockyards has got you covered as well. The many shops along the boardwalk sell everything a cowboy or cowgirl with a little cattle money in their pocket could possibly want. Antiques, collectables, one of a kind souvenirs, they’re all available for purchase, but don’t forget to stop in one of the many western wear and tack stores. A visit to Cowtown would not be complete without getting a new pair of boots or a beaver hat, shaped to order.

After a long day of riding, gunfighting, and shopping, enjoy a relaxing dinner at one of the many fine restaurants. Tex-Mex and seafood are all readily available, but after a day of cowboying, a thick char-grilled steak is really what you’re going to want. I suggest either Cattlemen’s Steakhouse or H3 Ranch for the best steaks in town. If you’re making it an adults only trip, then end the day with a beer or shot of your favorite adult beverage at one of the Stockyards plentiful saloons.

Whether you’re from Paris Texas or Paris France, there is a cowboy in all of us. We all have a part of us that longs for a simpler life where loyalty to the brand and dedication to your pals still means something. I know enough about history to know that I’m very happy and fortunate to be living in a time where food, water, medicine, and good paying jobs are all readily available, but the romance of the Old West still calls to me, and I am happy there are places where the spirit of the cowboy continues to live. It is my sincere hope that in some small way, I’m doing my part to keep that spirit alive. As always, thank you for reading. Now, saddle up and get out there and enjoy all the great state of Texas has to offer.






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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.



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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.


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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.