Traveling America from Boston to San Antonio

... maybe we'll go to China next time

by Jim Tierney

When we went to Ireland, expecting to see many thatched roofs and corned beef and cabbage, we found very few thatched roofs and NO corned beef and cabbage. We went to San Antonio expecting cowboys and horses and concluded that we probably have more in Boston. However, we did expect Mexican food and Margaritas and we got them. We also expected to see the Alamo out on the prairie and found it in the middle of the city, proving once again that things aren’t necessarily what we expect.

We in New England celebrate our independence from the British while Texas also celebrates it’s independence from Mexico and remembers the sacrifices that made it happen. The Alamo was the defining battle that motivated the Texans to “Remember the Alamo” and overpower Santa Anna and recapture the Alamo, under the leadership of General Sam Houston. Names like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Colonel Travis are prominent in the area and held in reverence. A visit to the Alamo is like visiting the Arizona at Pearl Harbor, quietly reflecting on what happened here.

Originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts in the 1700’s and was named the Alamo (Spanish for “cottonwood”) by Spanish military stationed there in the 1800’s, after their hometown Alamo de Parras. The Alamo fell on March 6, 1836 with 200 dead including 4 volunteers from Massachusetts and 10 from Ireland. This defense of Texas ultimately resulted in Texas’ independence and it becoming the 28th state  60 years later. Crockett, former Congressman from Tennessee and Houston, former Congressman and Governor of Tennessee, both prominent in the Texas revolution, played significant roles in Texas and other southwestern states now being part of the Unites States.  Incidentally, Houston became Governor of Texas and is the only individual to be governor of more than one state. Maybe Bill Weld will match it, running for governor of New York.

San Antonio is called the Venice of America, the city built around part of the winding, twisting, meandering San Antonio river(131 miles long), with shops, hotels, restaurants, sidewalk cafes, etc. on both sides of the river, called the Riverwalk (Paseo Del Rio), situated two streets below street level. San Antonio (St. Anthony) is the 3rd largest city in the state and 8th in the nation with street names in English, German, and Spanish. We arrived here the week of the annual Fiesta (Mardi Gras) and enjoyed the unexpected events, including a parade of boats and bustle of activity on the Riverwalk. We walked the Riverwalk and also cruised it, as well as having lunch there.

Teddy Roosevelt trained his troops in San Antonio for the war with Cuba and while observing the recruits for the first time he remarked “quite a rough looking bunch” and they thereafter became known as the Rough Riders. We stayed at the historic St. Anthony’s Hotel, where prior guests included Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, President Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Arnold and Maria, and John Wayne (while filming the Alamo), and we bussed from there to our destinations each day. Of course, San Antonio also celebrates Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and his friend Eva Longaria from Desperate Housewives.

Missions, missions, and more missions were reminders of the chain of missions established along the San Antonio river in the 18th century, one of Spain’s most successful attempts to extend its dominion northward from New Spain (present-day Mexico). Franciscan friars, with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, directed the missions and pledged to serve as protectors of the Tejas Indians (for whom Texas is named). They provided food and shelter in exchange for “conversion to Catholicism”. There was no separation of church and state so the Indians were expected to be tax paying citizens of New Spain(Mexico). We visited one of the missions, Mission San Jose y San Migual de Aguayo, known as “Queen of the Missions” and part of the National Park Service. Moving from building to building, including where 350 Indians resided in 84 two-room “apartments”, we visualized what it may have been like back then.

Visiting the Texas Hill Country, LBJ country, gave us a better understanding of “who WAS our 36th president”. He was a man of many, often conflicting moods, of great gentleness and violent energy. He was likable or unlikable depending on how well you knew him. His legacy is spread over hundreds of acres of land with the LBJ National Historical Park, which includes the ranch in Stonewall where the Texas White House is located and Johnson City, several miles away, where his boyhood home and Visitor Center is located. The LBJ library and Museum is in Austin 100 miles away on the campus of the University of Texas.  I guess Texans DO think big. Ladybird (Claudia Taylor), at age 93, STILL comes to the ranch once a month, living in the Texas White House. She sponsored the popular Heads up Program for Kids, Save the Wilderness Program, and the Highway Bill to beautify our highways. Unfortunately, LBJ’s Great Society programs like Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Medicare success were overshadowed by the Vietnam War. LBJ’s Cadillacs are still at the ranch as is his amphibious car in which he liked to take guests on a tour of the ranch (still a working ranch) and frighten them by “losing control” and driving into the river. He was very conscious of energy use and developed a habit of shutting off White House lights. He also made a habit of personally answering all his mail. Before fate intervened, a Texas barbecue was being prepared at the ranch for JFK and Jackie’s planned visit on November 23, 1963.  

We looked forward to our Dude Ranch visit in Bandera and we weren’t disappointed, except not getting on a horse. Perhaps, it was just as well. I may have come home in a cast (or casket).  Many horses and buffalo were running freely on the property with no concern of them running away. It happens occasionally but they come back because they are treated so well. We were also up-close-and-personal with hundreds of deer. We had a hayride and observed clusters of deer coming out of woods for cornmeal that was dropped along the way. We never saw so many deer. Our hosts provided us with a traditional Texas barbecue, with fiddle music by the Gibson Sisters, including the always requested Orange Blossom Special. “Wild Bill” Deane gave us storytelling about the Wild West, including Jesse and Frank James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, and the Younger Brothers. He also passed around several of the types of guns they used. We also enjoyed Magician/Illusionist Dave King who had us wondering how he does it. Bandera is called the Cowboy Capital of the World because it’s home to 6 winners of the annual Las Vegas Rodeo Championship.

The trip also included a visit to a German settlement Fredericksburg where we experienced a German meal and a visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War which includes the Bush Gallery (the father) and Admiral Nimitz Museum (his hometown), displaying World War II Pacific War exhibits. We also visited the Institute of Texas Cultures that depicts many of the cultures that settled Texas, and reenactments of daily events in the lives of long ago Texans. Most trips include a Yankee Candle visit or a glassblowing demonstration. We had a hand blown glass demo and we were pleasantly surprised and mesmerized for 45 minutes (believe it or not), watching a piece the size of a marble build up gradually with fire as it’s rolled (like rolling dough) into splinters of multicolored glass and eventually formed into a one-of-kind beautiful large colorful platter. We also had a Salsa dance lesson that “goes with the territory” but came home with the same 2 left feet we went with.

We didn’t quite cover the 270,000 square miles of Texas but it shure enuf seemed like it, I reckon.

November 3, 2006

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