An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Nine

Above, Houston Street streetcar approaches Alamo Plaza

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eight

Andrew Stevens, July 1911

“I feel deeply slighted you have not spent more evenings with me during our wives’ absence, Otto,” scolds the Colonel jokingly. “We should devote more time to late-night cards and drinks.” He winks. “Wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, the mice will dance. Instead, you lie awake late at night stewing over politics.”

Although Mr. K is sometimes a bit mysterious about his whereabouts, Andy is confident the two gentlemen are family men. Not the types to stray at all. 

Clearing his throat and glancing at Andy, Mr. K replies, “Colonel, we are much too devoted to our wives to do any carousing in their absence. Besides, they’d string us out to dry like venison jerky in a smokehouse if we did.”

“So very true, Otto. That horrible accident today makes me realize how fleeting our time with our wives could be. The poor woman usually boarded the streetcar. Ganahl Walker must have passed her often on his way in from his ranch but chose today to stop and offer her a lift. Two blocks shy of the end of the car line in the Los Angeles Heights Addition. If Missus Turley left her house on the McIlvane Ranch ten minutes earlier, she would have boarded the streetcar and Ganahl would have crossed the tracks safely.” 

“Colonel, I have trouble believing Ganahl would’ve been so foolhardy as to try to beat the train across Woodlawn. He probably was talking instead of paying attention to the train. Or the engineer was speeding to stay on schedule.”

Mr. K stares at his hands on the desk, lost in the story striking so close to home. Andy has overheard gossip claiming Mr. K was guilty of speeding after one too many drinks, but John says the accident rendering Mrs. Koehler incapable of walking was unavoidable and not Mr. K’s fault at all.

“Ganahl’s Buick was hit so hard he was thrown clear into a ditch, left so dazed he told bystanders he was alone.” Mr. Koehler’s lowers his voice as it cracks with atypical hoarseness. “It was only when the engineer crossed the tracks in front of the train that he saw her, Missus Turley, pinned to the cowcatcher. She made it to the hospital but might not live. J.M. Turley might be left alone with his son once again, a widower for the second time.”   

Regaining his composure, Mr. K changes the topic. “I hoped to have a wonderful present ready for Emma’s return. I encountered that artist who came up from Corpus Christi and plunged himself into decorating floats for Fiesta. Herbert Barnard is his name. He descends from a New England family of artists. This Barnard does large, solid paintings of massive limestone buildings, not just flimsy, flowery fields of bluebonnets like the Onderdonks.”

“Bemalte Blumen duften nicht,” the Colonel sniffs. “Not only do their wispy, painted flowers have no scent, they pale next to the real things. I do prefer manly paintings like Mister Bernard’s huge one of the old Vance Hotel hanging in the lobby of the Gunter Hotel.” 

“Mister Barnard gets steamed over the Onderdonks’ virtual monopoly of art patrons here. Complains he has trouble getting anyone to even look at his work. He told me about a project he did for the Baretta ranch north of town. Missus Baretta wanted to preserve the way the ranch looked in the spring year-round and all around. He painted the view from the house—west, north, east and south, where you could just barely make out some buildings downtown far off in the distance, maybe even the brewery. He stretched the canvas completely around the interior of their parlor, cutting openings for the windows and doors. 

“Herbert said he painted in the Barettas’ young boy, barefoot with a sombrero, in the pasture with his pony. At first, old man Baretta demanded that Herbert strike the boy out of the painting, complaining the artist made his son look like a Mexican peon. Missus Baretta defended the portrayal as quite accurate, saying, if you let a boy run about on the ranch all day with the Mexican ranch hands, it’s only natural he begins to look like the child of a Mexican ranch hand. After his wife suggested he pack the boy off to boarding school, Mister Baretta suddenly warmed to Herbert’s portrayal.

“So, I had the artist come up to Emma’s room to see if he could do the same; so she could sense the outdoors while resting in bed… San Pedro Park… the neighbors’ gardens and rooftops… the turrets of the brewery. He seemed enthused, but then he named his price. I balked, as any reasonable man would’ve done. I asked him how he expected to compete with the established Onderdonks if he was asking Onderdonk prices.

“El Maestro Barnard was miffed. Claimed his artistry was superior to the Onderdonks’ and actually should command higher prices. He wanted to know if I’d cut my prices if Lone Star Brewing Company could produce a beer that outsold Pearl.”

The Colonel pipes in, “That answer was easy.”

“I told him of course we would.”

The mention of a beer competitor wakes up the Colonel. “That advertisement Lone Star Brewing Company ran today was a rather desperate pitch. A man can buy a case of Alamo Beer—a case of thirty-six bottles for only $3.60; drink three; and then return the other thirty-three for a $3.60 refund. That is verrückt. A man might do it once for three free beers, but it certainly isn’t going to convert him from Pearl to Alamo.”

“I don’t think we will see that advertisement repeated next week,” predicts Mr. K. “I pointed out to Mister Barnard that beer in our warehouse does nothing to line our pockets, and, ergo, what good did his paintings do stacked against a wall in his house? The pretentious fusspot then snipped that someone like me was incapable of understanding the difference between beer and art.

“Now that was insulting. The crafting of beer is high art. The brewmeister a true artist. Why, when Gottlieb Schober foolishly elected to leave us to go off and make his own brew, we scoured the whole country and all of Germany before we were able to find the right replacement. Stealing Gustav Etter away from Tosetti of Chicago was no easy task. Talk about an artist’s price!”

The Colonel lifts his always-refilled-by-Andy glass to observe the pearl-like bubbles rising in the golden liquid. “Our man Etter is the Albrecht Durer of brewing, worth his weight in gold, he is. Andy, don’t ever repeat that to him, though. I have surrendered one arm to him, but I’d like to keep the other and my legs.”

Andy’s brother enters, and Mr. K nods a welcome as he concludes his story, “Needless to say, Emma will not be getting one of Mister Barnard’s self-proclaimed masterpieces as a homecoming surprise.”

John immediately jumps into the conversation. “Ah, you must be talking about the painter. He does have a rather high opinion of himself. Well, tonight is the night, gentlemen. People already are beginning to fill the streets, and, with so many businesses agreeing to close tomorrow, they are in high holiday-like spirits. Chester Terrell ordered so many torches and lanterns that parade participants will feel as though they’re marching in daylight.”

The Colonel extends a hand to welcome John. “Those mad Pros torched a saloon in Alice last night, and the fire spread and consumed seventeen other buildings. At least Tom Campbell’s incendiary speech is behind us. Governor Colquitt is not pleased, not pleased at all with the aspersions his predecessor cast upon his moral character. I believe the tactic will backfire, as the Governor is now primed to retaliate in his speech tonight.”

Mr. K gestures his index finger toward the Colonel. “Remind Governor Colquitt of his ‘booze barrel ride’ into office just before he speaks tonight, Colonel. Who is speaking at the Pros’ Airdome rally?”

John replies, “They have brought in their Tyler import—‘the-saloon-must-go’ Cone Johnson.” 

Mr. K cocks his head toward Andy. “I want you to monitor the Airdome and report back to us tomorrow, Andy.”

Andy struggles to disguise his disappointment at being exiled to the dry rally, but he realizes his relative anonymity permits him to move unnoticed amidst the other camp. His attempt to mask his feelings from Mr. K is unsuccessful.

“On second thought, Andy, we can read about orator Johnson’s remarks in the newspaper. The election is upon us. I’d rather hear your observations about the performances and crowd at Beethoven Hall.”

The Colonel shakes the right cuff of his trousers out as he stands to leave. “So, you’re not joining us, Otto?”

“No, your presence on the stage is more than adequate representation for the brewing industry, Colonel. I plan to watch the parade from John’s office balcony and then slip home.”

~  ~  ~

Traffic is at a standstill, but the River Avenue streetcar manages to push its way into downtown. As it nears Travis Street, it, too, slows to a stop. Andy hops out to weave his way through the dour lot gathering for the Pro rally. 

The character of the crowd changes as soon as he hits Houston Street. People are smoking, exchanging jokes and laughing aloud. He feels more at ease. Andy maneuvers past the Alamo and finally stations himself at Fred Achtzehn’s Eighteen Bar to view the approaching procession before crossing over to Beethoven Hall. 

He hears the bands and cheers well before the dancing red and green lights of the first torches come into view. The cavalcade of mounted horsemen is as impressive as Sheriff Tobin promised. Mr. K must be pleased. The parade must stretch for miles. As the bearers of hundreds of bobbing Japanese lanterns come into view, Andy realizes he better not watch any more of the parade.

Too late. The hall is packed. No seats are left, and he sees nothing but a sea of heads in front of him. He picks his way to a window at the back of the hall and hoists himself onto the sill. What a relief to be by the open window. The heat is stifling. The aisles are stuffed, with men perched on every other available windowsill. The ladies’ fans flutter nonstop. 

Andy can see outside that hundreds are being turned away at the door, and the garden is overflowing with people of all classes. The line of marchers must be backed up past the Alamo. Surely there has never been a larger crowd assembled to hear politicians.

Mayor Callaghan is speaking. Andy recognizes Chester Terrell and Judge Onion on the stage. Governor Colquitt is flanked by his wife and the Colonel. All are red-faced from the intense heat. Amazingly, the Mayor keeps his remarks brief, and the fired-up Governor leaps up to the podium.

“I defy Bishop Mouson to read me out of the Methodist Church!” The receptive crowd immediately whoops, hollers, whistles and bursts into applause. 

“I admit I am a sinner. But I know it and confess to it. I’m not so self-righteous as to claim perfection. I hold sacred the pulpits of our churches and condemn the use of holy institutions by those who wish only to advance their own political doctrine and ambitions.”     

Cheers from the crowd continue to interrupt the Governor’s remarks. 

“I have pleaded for peace, but the Pros have declared war. All over the state, they are assailing me with vituperation and, in some cases, downright falsehoods. If the people of Texas heed Tom Campbell and vote prohibition, it will take a tax hike to cure the mistake.

“On the field at San Jacinto, Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar risked their lives to win freedom of religion for all Texans. That does not just mean Tom Campbell’s religion. It means the religion of Mr. Lucchese over there, of Mr. Suchy, of Mr. Shaunessey and Mr. Brennan. 

“I do not feel compelled to wear my religion on my sleeve the way some men do. Instead, I maintain a steadfast course. I pledge to you tonight to continue to do my duty as I see it under the guidance of God.”

While Governor Colquitt’s speech is on the mark, Fitzhugh Hill delivers blow after blow.  “The only prohibition nations in the world are those ruled by Mohammedans, infidels and practitioners of polygamy. Of the forty-six states in the Union, only eight are prohibition states. Why those little eight states all together are not as large as the panhandle of Texas. 

“In my section of Texas, they give you the impression San Antonio is full of rock-bound prohibitionists. I am so glad I came here to see for myself, because now I feel better about the future of this great state. Why, the Pros are as scarce in San Antonio as icicles in Hades!”

Andy mops his brow as the crowd roars. Or, for that matter, icicles in San Antonio.

~  ~  ~

The rain clouds are so dark and dense, the sun cannot rise. The dust was suffocating yesterday as people stood in line to cast their votes. But yesterday’s dust is today’s mud. 

Andy alights from the trolley, taking giant steps to avoid ankle-deep puddles. He stops, struggling to balance his umbrella while rolling up his pants legs before fording the aptly named River Avenue. 

Andy prides himself on arriving before anyone else, but lights blaze in the brewery offices. While laborers and beer drivers report before dawn, the front office staff does not. 

Why, there are three fools standing outside without umbrellas! As he approaches, he realizes one of the fools is his brother John. Something must be wrong. What emergency has brought him to the brewery at such an early hour?

The three men all hold sodden cigars snuffed out by the downpour. Andy vainly attempts to offer Mr. K his umbrella, as a soaking wet John embraces him. “Andy, the drought has ended.”

“The rain-sa sign,” slurs the Colonel. 

Mr. K spreads out his arms. “Even God wants Texas to be wet.”

John flings his arms upward. “Hallelujah! Andy, it was five, or maybe even six, to one here in San Antonio.” 

The Colonel’s mouth is wide open, collecting rain from the heavens like a turkey in a barnyard.

The trio is not here early. They are here late. They have yet to go home. 

“I know, John. I watched the returns on Crockett Street. Every time the screen on the Grand Opera House flashed up new figures, the crowd went wild.”

Mr. K clasps his hands. “I love this city. Not one single precinct returned a Pro majority. And I love old Adolphus. Told those city leaders in Dallas a hotel can’t survive in a dry community. Scared the pants off them by stopping construction on his hotel. Adolphus got even Dallas to vote Anti.”

Looking like a lovestruck schoolboy, the Colonel gushes, “Those Mexicans. I love those Mexicans. Precinct 6—almost all Mexican—gave the Pros only three votes. Zapata County—not one single Pro vote. Alas, those poor negro Methodists gathering in Austin. They have to throw away their 6,000 banners proclaiming, ‘Texas Has Gone Dry.’”

Extending his arms outward again, Mr. K inflates his chest. “It is no longer dry, my friends. God saw fit to end the longest drought in Texas since the turn of the century. Pearl Beer—Who can beat it?” 

One of the stablehands brings up the Colonel’s carriage, and John and Andy struggle to boost the unsteady Colonel up to the coachman’s seat.

The horse stands patiently, even as the Colonel turns and swings the reins wildly to point at Andy. “We’ve ordered sausages for all the men. They’ll be delivered at noon. Have the foreman blow the whistle and let the workers all draw an extra pint.”

John snickers. “German sausages and tortillas. The Colonel was so excited about the Mexican vote, he ordered sausages and tortillas. Rang poor Ol’ Boehler up in the middle of the night. Ol’ Boehler protested that he didn’t carry tortillas, as though he happened to have hundreds of extra sausages and rolls already on hand. But the Colonel insisted we had to have the ‘white fluffy ones.’ His only concession to Boehler’s sensitivity was, ‘And lots of good German mustard.’”

The Colonel leans from the driver’s seat toward John. “Poke fun at me if you want, John, but just you wait. Soon I will be heralded throughout the land as America’s Earl of Sandwich.”  He chuckles and clucks to his horse.

Arms around each other’s shoulders, John and Mr. K swagger off toward the stable to fetch their own carriages. John suddenly twirls Mr. K back around with him to address the departing Colonel. “Colonel-dogs!” he bellows. “Sausages on tortillas. They will call them Colonel-dogs on all the menus. You will be famous.”

The two “gentlemen” start baying like hounds.

Thank God their horses all know their way home.

Footnotes

Most of the time there is no need to remember the names of people tossed into the narrative to illustrate how fleeting life is and how it can be cut short unexpectedly, but keep James Monroe Turley tucked away in your mental filing cabinet until later. Many chapters away. Both Ganahl Walker and Mamie Turley spent weeks recovering at Santa Rosa Hospital. While the newspaper accounts at the time of the accident only mention Turley’s son from his first marriage to Annie Lebenske, who died in 1898, he and Mamie also had a young daughter, Louise. It does whittle a few characters out of the narrative to continue a practice of ignoring some offspring.

The Author first encountered the work of Herbert Barnard when doing public relations for anniversary celebrations of The Esquire Tavern. The Author hopes you do not think it rude of her to drop names of some of the classy clients she has had through the years. Hanging on the wall in the bar was a painting of the old Vance Hotel, and the owner claimed the original owner of the Esquire had plucked it out of the floodwaters of 1921. Koehler’s role as an art critic is invented.

One of John Stevens’ offices was in what is now known as the Staacke-Stevens Building on Commerce Street, or what remains of the pair of buildings after the back was shorn off for parking. The Author officed there briefly while doing work for the San Antonio Public Library Foundation. Whoops, name-dropped again.

The parade and rally are drawn from news reports, aside from adding Mr. Brennan. The Author’s father definitely would have rallied for the Antis had he been alive then.

The morning-after howling trio outside the brewery is fictitious. And Colonel-dogs? That thought just bubbled out of the Author’s bathtub one morning.  

Continue to Chapter Ten

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