Gate A-4

Originally posted on Live & Learn:


Gate A-4 By Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be…

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Queen of Weird’s Book Isn’t Kidding

Two books have just been published that will convince nonbelievers that Austin is weird. Howie Richey just wrote Party Weird: Festivals & Fringe Gatherings of Austin. Chapter 3 is called “Aralyn Hughes.” Aralyn

Myra, Aralyn & Howie in the Texas Assoc of Authors tent at the Texas Book Festival

Myra, Aralyn & Howie in the Texas Assoc of Authors tent at the Texas Book Festival

Hughes is the editor of the second book, Kid Me Not.  The article below offers a sample of Aralyn, “The Queen of Weird.”  You will see how Aralyn and Howie  make a lively Austin team.

By John Kelso

It’s hard to have the blues when you chat with Aralyn Hughes. She can tapdance, paint a picture, tell a story, write a book, throw a costume party, drive an art car covered with pigs, remove a chewing gum stain from a pair of pants, and convince women to be their own boss and do what they want.
Aralyn Hughes, known around Austin as the Queen of Weird, just might be Dan Patrick’s worst nightmare.

It’s not her art car or choice in pets that would make his skin itch. The ’88 Oldsmobile Aralyn bought for $500 is covered with pig figurines. Back when the pig car was running, Aralyn would drive around town selling real estate with her pet pig Ara riding shotgun.

“Lots of people who bought from me wanted to ride in the pig car, and the pig to go along,” Aralyn said. “If I lived in Waco or Lubbock, they’d think I was a lunatic. But here in Austin they just wave.”

So what would ruffle some folks’ shorts? Aralyn, who started Austin’s first abortion clinic when she arrived in town in the mid-1970s, has put together a book called “Kid Me Not.” It’s an anthology of thoughtful stories told by 15 women in their 60s who survived the 1960s and decided not to become mothers for various reasons.

There’s the pain of childbirth, the lifelong commitment, pursuing a career instead of a crib, and some women simply aren’t cut out to be Mom. You’ve heard the expression, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” That includes the children.

The stories are well told by some successful women, among them CK Car-man, who worked as a bartender, a crop duster and finally a radio and TV broadcaster; Austin writer and horse rancher Lin Sutherland; and Aralyn, who can tap dance, paint and make you laugh.

Aralyn has done nine solo performances that include, among other things, a straightforward marching order: Gals, you’re the boss of your own life, so do what you want and get after it.

Of course, announcing that you’re not fixing to raise a family sometimes brings the look that asks, “What’s your problem?” In her book, Aralyn writes about a friend she helped through childbirth twice. Later, the friend dropped Aralyn like a bad habit.

“When I asked why, she said, ‘Because you don’t have children and don’t want to have children,’” Aralyn writes. “My feelings were hurt beyond measure.”

Some folks won’t appreciate Aralyn’s outrageous humor. There’s the dominatrix outfit she wears in her movie “Love in the Sixties.” And she’s known around town for her costume parties. She once dressed as a pregnant Girl Scout. The pork and beans ensemble was benign by comparison. The pig went as the pork, while Aralyn filled in as the beans.
“People say, ‘You’re going to ruin your reputation,’” she said. “I’m 68 years old. Do you really think I have to worry about my reputation now?”

Aralyn sees herself as a pioneer. She remembers when “the pill” came along and gave women a choice. Aralyn wants young women today to realize who got the ball rolling for them a half-century ago.

“I was told if I wanted to go to college that was fine,” Aralyn said. But there was a caveat. “I was also told I was going for an MRS degree, because all the men I wanted to be married to were in college.”

So Aralyn attended Oklahoma State and got a degree — in home economics. “For gosh sakes, I thought I was going to be the stitch and stir woman,” she said. “I’m also known around town as the stain queen. I can get a stain out of anything.”

Aralyn’s background certainly wasn’t radical. She grew up in Elk City, Okla., an oil town on Route 66 she describes as “a peek and plum town. Take a peek and you’re plum out of town.”

But Elk City wasn’t a hotbed of activism.

“When the church bells tolled, everybody was there,” she said.

Aralyn was a cheerleader in high school and was president of the Tri Delta sorority at Oklahoma State. She married a Navy man, and nine years later, she split the sheets. He wanted kids; she didn’t. She was flamboyant. Apparently he wasn’t.

“He said it looked as if somebody from the circus lived here because my side of the closet was colorful hats and scarves,” she said. “And I just kind of joked that the circus came to town and I just left with it.”

Aralyn jumped into real estate. Then in 2008, when the housing market went sour, she switched gears and took to the stage. She put together nine monologues. “I just got up and told my story.”

Last year, one of her shows made it to New York for a major solo theater festival.

“I’m a person who gives people permission to do what they want, even if they’re getting along in years,” Aralyn said. “How often do you hear people say, ‘I’m saving for a rainy day?’

“Folks, I say the rainy day is here. You’re in your 60s. Get with it.”

John Kelso’s column appears on Sundays in the Austin-American Statesman. Contact him at or 512-445-3606.

A Change of Pace

To my friends, family, and faithful readers,

I have been wrestling with the clock, which insists on offering a mere twenty-four hours in each day. I have argued with that digital monster, determined that I could beat it, certain that I don’t need to sleep more than a few hours, sure that I can accomplish all I dream of doing without giving up a single thing.

Bottom line: I want to write two books. One book is a collection of three years of weekly Texas history blogs. The other book is a prequel to Stein House, which I’m calling The Doctor’s Wife. (If you have read Stein House, you know Amelia is the doctor’s wife, and her story chronicles the exciting and tragic migration of thousands of Germans to the Texas coast beginning in the mid-1840s.) Both books are underway, but I am spending far too much time researching and writing the weekly Texas history blog and lecturing on a regular basis for several venues.

Some readers imagine that I harbor a library of information and simply spew out the details each week. Each blog requires at least a full day and often much more.

My plan is to take some time off from writing the weekly Texas history blog and devote more time to telling the Texas tale in a different format. I will try to keep my website up to date if you are curious about my progress. I appreciate your faithful reading, and as I write this I am already feeling sad. I hope to hear from you with best wishes. And I hope to see you again at this site.


The Question of Santa Anna’s Leg

Display at Illinois State Military Museum, photo Sangamon County Historical Society

Display at Illinois State Military Museum, photo Sangamon County Historical Society

I usually try to tell the tale and let readers make up their own minds about the merits of the case. This time, I am admitting up front that I am siding with the state of Illinois against my own birthplace of Texas. Here’s the conundrum: The Illinois State Military Museum owns and proudly displays Santa Anna’s artificial leg and the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum wants it.

The story goes like this: In 1836, after General Santa Anna won the Battle of the Alamo and had the survivors slaughtered and then ordered the massacre of about 300 Texans at Goliad, he marched in glory toward San Jacinto where he expected to defeat those “land thieves,” once and for all. His hubris, his view of himself as the Napoleon of the West, caused him to leave the bulk of his army behind and rush to San Jacinto. He lost the battle at San Jacinto in eighteen minutes, which gave Texas its independence from Mexico. Actually, he didn’t lose; he ran off and was not discovered until the next day cowering among some marsh, dressed as a common soldier.

When the Mexican government heard of the fiasco, the officials promptly kicked him out of office as president of Mexico and commander of the Mexican Army. Consequently, Mexico claimed that Santa Anna did not have the authority to sign the peace treaty that declared Texas independence.

Santa Anna was not done. After a time of exile in the United States, he made his way back to his hacienda in Veracruz. In December 1838, the Mexican government had refused to compensate French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico, and the French Army landed in Veracruz demanding payment. Mexican officials called on none other than the disgraced Santa Anna to defeat the French, using any means necessary. The assault failed, and as the Mexican Army was retreating, cannon fire hit Santa Anna in the leg, shattering his ankle. His leg had to be amputated, and that was the vehicle Santa Anna rode on his return to Mexican politics. Despite Mexico having to meet the French demands, Santa Anna turned defeat in victory by having his amputated leg buried with full military honors. He never again allowed his countrymen to forget his great sacrifice.

Santa Anna turned to the only man in the United States that made artificial legs. Charles Bartlett, a former cabinetmaker from New York City, crafted for $1,300, a prosthetic leg of cork covered in leather.

Santa Anna's $1,300 cork leg with leather cover.

Santa Anna’s $1,300 cork leg with leather cover.

While serving as acting president of Mexico in 1841, he helped overthrow the government. After four years under his dictatorship, during which he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, his autocratic rule caused so much resistance that he was forced into exile in Cuba. Santa Anna was not done. At the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Santa Anna made a deal with President James Polk to enter Mexico through the U.S. naval blockade in exchange for negotiating a reasonable price for the sale to the U.S of the disputed land. While dealing with President Polk, Santa Anna arranged with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders (that is the United States). Both presidents agreed to Santa Anna’s deals, and as soon as he reached Mexico he declared himself president and began leading the Mexican Army in its unsuccessful fight against the United States.

On April 18, 1847, in the midst of the Mexican-American War, Santa Anna was sitting in his carriage enjoying a chicken lunch a safe distance from the fighting, when Company G, 4th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers surprised him. The General got away, but he left behind his cork leg and $18,000 in gold. The story is that the men finished off the chicken, turned the gold over to their commander, and took the leg with them back to Illinois at the end of the war. For years they charged the curious, ten cents a viewing of the leg. In 1922, it was donated to the state.

Today, Santa Anna’s leg is the central attraction in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. The challenge came in April 2014 when the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum launched a petition on the White House website seeking 100,000 signatures to get the leg moved to Texas. There were not enough takers to qualify for the White House to look into the cause, however, it is hard to imagine that a president from Illinois would step into a move to take a prize from his state and send it to Texas.

If I had been asked to vote, and I was not, I would say Santa Anna’s artificial leg belongs to Illinois. While Santa Anna was a bitter enemy of Texas and continues to be held in low esteem, he had both his good legs while he was in Texas. Those Illinois volunteers found that leg eleven years after Santa Anna foolishly led his men to defeat at San Jacinto.

Tales of Fort Leaton

The Chihuahuan Desert hugging the Rio Grande in far West Texas was a killing field for Spanish explorers, Apaches, Comanches, white scalp hunters, and freighters daring to travel between San Antonio and

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

Ciudad Chihuahua. Apache and Comanche raids into Mexico—killing hundreds, stealing thousands of livestock, and capturing women and children—resulted by 1835 in the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora offering bounties for each scalp of $100 for braves; $50 for squaws; and $25 for children under fourteen. Once the scalp dried out, it was difficult to tell whether it had belonged to an Indian, a Mexican, or a white person, which encouraged wholesale slaughter of all stripes of travelers who dared enter the region. The financial panic of 1837 left miners in Northern Mexico and pioneers moving west in need of money. Scalp hunting brought in more than most men could make in a year.

The Indian raids decreased during the Mexican-American War (1846-48) as U.S. soldiers chased Indians when they weren’t busy fighting the Mexicans. However, after the war, the Indian attacks increased and the price per scalp inflated to $200—a quicker profit than heading to the California gold fields.

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

In 1848, after the Rio Grande was settled as the international boundary between Texas and Mexico, Ben Leaton, a freighter who had been augmenting his income by working as a scalp hunter, realized that a trading post on the Rio Grande would be a prime location on the Chihuahua Trail. Jefferson Morgenthaler, author of The River Has Never Divided Us, writes that Ben Leaton selected a site for a trading post three miles downriver from Presidio del Norte (present Presidio).  By bribing the alcalde (mayor) and former alcalde of Presidio, he produced forged deeds to the land where Mexican peasants had farmed for generations.

Leaton, at the point of a gun, ran the Mexican farmers off of a tract of farmland that was five miles long and over a mile wide. Their protests to Mexican authorities went unheeded because the land was no longer part of Mexico. Then, he set about building a fortification that would serve as his home, trading post, and corral. Leaton built his L-shaped, forty-room fortress with eighteen-inch thick adobe walls that paralleled the river for 200 feet, forming a stockade at the base of the L. Walls and parapets enclosed the structure. Giant wooden doors, topped by a small cannon, opened to admit teams and wagons to the fortress that became known as Fort Leaton, the only fortification between Eagle Pass and El Paso. While Fort Davis was being built eighty miles to the north, the U.S. Army used Fort Leaton as its headquarters and continued to use the site as an outpost for its military patrols.

Interior, Fort Leaton

Interior, Fort Leaton

Morgenthaler writes that the first group of Texans to reach the new trading post was a 70-man expedition in October 1848, under the leadership of the famed Texas Ranger Jack Hays who was charged with opening a trading route between San Antonio and Chihuahua. Using an inaccurate map and an incompetent guide, the entourage had gotten lost and reached Fort Leaton half-starved. Leaton welcomed them while they rested and regained their strength. Although they returned to San Antonio without completing the expedition, the Chihuahua Trail soon opened to a steady stream of freighters.

No record survives of any Indian attacks on Fort Leaton, which may be explained by accusations that Ben Leaton traded rifles, bullets, swords, tobacco, and whiskey to the Apaches and Comanches in exchange for livestock, church ornaments, housewares, and captives from Mexico. Leaton also served as a welcoming host, for a hefty price, to traders heading to Mexico and forty-niners on their way to the gold fields of California.

Leaton died in 1851 before charges could be brought by the Inspector of the Military Colonies of Chihuahua of “a thousand abuses, and of so hurtful a nature, that he keeps an open treaty with the Apache Indians . . . .” His widow married Edward Hall who continued operating the trading post. Hall borrowed money in 1864 from Leaton’s scalp hunting partner John Burgess. When Hall defaulted on the debt, he was murdered, and Burgess’ family moved into the fort. Then, Leaton’s son murdered Burgess in 1875. The Burgess’ family remained at Fort Leaton until 1926.

A private citizen bought the fort and donated it to Presidio County; however, inadequate funding kept the old structure from being properly maintained. Finally another private citizen bought the structure, donated it to the state and it was restored and designated in 1968 as Fort Leaton State Historic Site.


Candelilla See attached blog above by aneyefortexas

Sitting among the lechuguilla, ocotillo, creosote bush and candelilla of the Chihuahuan Desert, it welcomes visitors seven days a week, except Christmas.


Ocotillo, See the attached blog above by aneyefortexas

Meet & Greet–Texas Book Festival

Myra Hargrave McIlvain

Author of Stein House

Saturday, October 25

Writers’ League of Texas

Booth 414-15

2-2:45 pm


Sunday, October 26

Texas Association of Authors

Booth 604, 605, 610

1-3:00 pm


Harker Heights Public Library

Local Author Fair

400 Indian Trail

Harker Heights, TX 76548

Saturday, November 1

9:00 am – 1 pm

Hope to See You There!

Going to the Poor House in Texas

The dream of finding a new life, the belief that if a man worked hard, he could “make it,” drove settlers by the thousands to the cheap land in Texas. If illness, death of the breadwinner, drought or crop failure forced a family into poverty, they and their neighbors believed that the need to accept public assistance was a form of moral failure.

During the Civil War, churches and charities that had always helped the indigent, could not keep up with the level of poverty after the men left for service in the Confederacy. When the men returned, they found four years of neglect, the cattle sold or stolen, fields grown up in weeds, and houses crumbling for lack of money or labor for repair. In an attempt to address the mounting problems of the destitute—young, old, mentally ill, and sick—an addendum was added to Texas’ 1869 constitution assigning to the counties the responsibility for providing a Manual Labor Poor House to care for the indigent and those who had committed petty crimes. Notice that lawbreakers were to be included in the poor houses—a clear indication of the disdain that coupled the impoverished with the criminal element of the community.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) conducted a survey in 1987 and discovered that at least sixty-five of the 254 counties in Texas opened a poor farm. While very few of the farms kept records of the names, number or type of indigents housed in the facilities, Anderson County listed “indigent blind person, “indigent widow,” and “pauper” among its poor farm residents in 1887. The superintendent was allowed $6.50 per month to provide food and clothing for the paupers and twenty cents per day to feed the convicts and farm hands. The county paid for clothing, medicine and doctor visits for the tenants, but stipulated that funds would not be paid for babies nursing their own mother.

Debbie Cottrell’s research for her article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1989-April 1990 reveals that most of the farms closed with the introduction of federal assistance programs during the Great Depression. Cottrell writes that three counties—Anderson, Parker, and Cass—left more records than most other counties. Anderson County, which opened its farm near Palestine in 1884, built a potato barn, a superintendent’s home, housing for indigents, and a jail. It operated until the 1940s. Parker County began housing indigent families south of Weatherford in barracks-style houses about 1889; by the 1930s the residents were mostly elderly.

1914 Photo Cass County Poor Farm Right, pauper's and their home, Left is superintendent's family and house with inmates attached dining room.

1914 Photo Cass County Poor Farm Right, pauper’s and their home, Left is superintendent’s family and house with inmates attached dining room.

Cass County’s farm outside Linden opened in 1895 and replaced the earlier system of paying from $3 to $8 per month to individuals on the pauper list. Jean Howe Stow writes in Frontier Times that in Cass County to be eligible for residency in the poor farm a person could not “own more than $10 in worldly goods. . . had to appear before the commissioner’s court and take a pauper’s oath. . . declaring to the county judge and commissioners, ‘I am a pauper.’” Stow adds that “in addition to furnishing all the necessities of life for the paupers, the commissioners supplied them with the necessities of death . . . payment of $8 for a coffin and a payment of $2 for the digging of a grave.”

El Paso’s second poor farm was located in 1915 near the property of John O’Shea, a wealthy farmer and businessman, who took over operation of the poor farm. His wife Agnes O’Shea, was in charge of the

El Paso County Poor Farm, Photographer unknown Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum

El Paso County Poor Farm, Photographer unknown
Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum

residents, and in 1929 at the beginning of the Great Depression, John died. Their daughter moved from San Antonio to help her mother, and with the increase of poverty, the population on the farm grew rapidly. Renamed Rio Vista Farm, it housed the temporary base for a Civilian Conservation Corps, and it sheltered

El Paso Pauper's Cemetery, Seven graves found in 1957

El Paso Pauper’s Cemetery, Seven graves found in 1957

hundreds of homeless adults and children. It served from 1951 to 1964 as the reception and processing center for the Bracero Program, which brought Mexican laborers to work in the agricultural regions of the United States. Rio Vista accepted neglected and abandoned children in addition to indigent adults.

Edna Gladney, an early champion of children’s rights and better living conditions, moved with her husband to Sherman, and while on a campaign with the Sherman Civic League to inspect local meat markets and public restrooms, they discovered the deplorable conditions at the Grayson County Poor Farm. After writing a scathing article in the local paper about the poor farm being little more than a dumping ground for the poor, insane, handicapped, and children, she arranged for the Civic League to have a meeting with the Commissioners Court and the owners of the poor farm. She enlisted the aid of Civic League to clean and whitewash the facility. Then, she arranged to have the children transferred to the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society in Fort Worth.

Kaufman County, whose last residents left the farm in the 1970s, has been preserving some of the structures on the remaining twenty-seven acres of the original facility with the intention of making it a heritage tourism destination and educational resource. The farm, which was opened in 1881, housed the local

One of the original buildings on the Kaufman County Poor Farm.

One of the original buildings on the Kaufman County Poor Farm.

paupers who were expected to support themselves by working on the farm until they were financially able to leave or until they died. During the 1900 outbreak of smallpox, the poor farm served as the Epidemic Camp. A burial site on the property has been in use since the 1871 typhoid fever epidemic and continues to be the location for burial of transients, inmates who died in jail, and persons who have been quarantined.

The Texas Historical Commission is working with counties throughout the state to locate and document the operation of Texas poor farms—a legacy that has been forgotten.