An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eleven

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Ten

Andrew Stevens, September 1911

Mr. K emits an exaggerated sigh. “What a welcome relief to be in the quiet confines of the brewery walls. Colonel, I don’t know about Sophie, but Emma’s criticism is relentless against permitting politics to interrupt this summer’s travel plans. She continues to remind me of her wisdom in advising us to join them on the eastern side of the Atlantic instead of bringing them back to sweat it out here in September. ‘Hot, hot, hot,’ she repeats aloud. As though I were incapable of coming to that conclusion on my own.”

The Colonel takes out his handkerchief to mop his forehead. “This August was the hottest one since the Weather Bureau started recording temperatures in 1885.”

“‘Thirteen days of temperatures over 100 degrees,’ Emma complains, before adding that I made sure she didn’t miss a one.” 

John raises his handkerchief to his face as well. “’Tis a woman who reigns over Hades, they say.”

The Colonel grins in agreement. “Even though we’ve entered a prime ‘r’ month, I am not prepared to trust an oyster hauled in from the coast. To prevent them from spoiling, the packers ship them in so much formaldehyde that those mollusks could reside in some grotesque embalmed state in your stomach until long after you were dead and in the ground.”

Mr. K adds, “And the heat makes people whine about the water. George Brackenridge ups and builds a new house by the Country Club because he is so saddened by the disappearance of bubbling springs at the headwaters. Blames it on the breweries’ artesian wells. As though he were not the party who should bear the most guilt for pumping it dry. As though he didn’t make any profit from his waterworks. If he hadn’t tried to charge such outlandish rates for water that bubbles out of the ground for free, we might not have built our own wells. We have as much right to that water as he. Beer is the gasoline of this city. Breweries pump well over half-a-million dollars into the hands of the working man every year. Dry that up and see what would happen.”

John dabs the handkerchief under his eye as though wiping away a tear. “What saddens me more than the heat, or the oysters, or the water is the loss of two of the city’s most prominent landmarks. How are tourists ever going to find their way back to the Alamo without our 100-foot-high ‘Who Can Beat It?’ beacon as their compass?”

The Colonel sighs. “I even will miss the flapping wings of our competitor’s eagle above the green and purple grapes. Disconnecting them yesterday evening caused almost the entire city to lose lights for four hours. Streetcars stopped dead on the tracks. Hundreds of shoppers and theater patrons were left shuffling home on the sidewalks as though in mourning. Those signs were art. I loved the way the electric current climbed up our scaffolding and exploded into a rocket of brilliant colors cascading back to earth. I never left an evening event without halting my carriage in awe of its majesty.”

Mr. K shakes his head. “A lot of money down the drain. I hope this sacrificial truce amongst the breweries makes Governor Colquitt happy.”

“I must admit,” says John, “it would have been extremely difficult for the Governor to come to San Antonio to promote the restoration of the Alamo and ignore our signs dominating its plaza. Hugo & Schmeltzer’s inartistic two-story addition to the Alamo’s side-yard is insignificant compared to those two signs.”

Mr. Koehler starts chuckling. “Captain Cook even ordered the police to crack down on idlers around Alamo Plaza. He hired a comely lady to entrap young men with a penchant for casting languishing eyes, winking and voicing ungentlemanly remarks. He just needs Emma. She’d volunteer to handle them effectively at no charge. Hettie told me one of the dandies emitted a faint whistle the other day as she left Joske Brothers. Miss Dumpke followed wheeling my delicate invalid Emma, who lashed out and cracked her cane across the poor lad’s shin.”

John snorts. “Deputize Emma. A policeman pushing Emma the enforcer around the plaza would send all those hooligans hopping toward home in no time.”

The Colonel returns to difficulties affecting the brewing industry. “If the removal of our electric sign is not distressing enough, what of the actions of the Restaurant Men? If they want men to patronize their establishments at noon, maybe the restaurants should serve free beer instead of whining about the saloons offering free lunch.”

Mr. K scowls. “Mister Magendile is overly impressed with his coronation as the Restaurant Men’s permanent president. I don’t believe the San Antonio group will be successful in forming a state organization, particularly not one strong enough to influence the legislature to eliminate a time-honored custom so dear to the toiler. John, maybe you should visit with Mayor Callaghan. And what of the Governor? We can ill afford for him to appear to be ignoring the working man on Labor Day.”

The Colonel explains. “Governor Colquitt is balking. He claims the Daughters of the Republic battle over the Alamo already is more than one man can handle in one weekend. He told a reporter this morning he forgot to pack politics in his case. Left it all behind in Austin.”

John waves his handkerchief like a flag for surrender. “Trying to make peace between Adina de Zavala and Clara Driscoll is a dangerous undertaking. I’d rather stand up to Santa Anna himself.”

Mr. K spreads his hands in puzzlement. “Texans! I know of no other place in the world where those who were so utterly defeated have stubbornly fought to preserve the site of the great embarrassment. They should tear down the Alamo and concentrate on where they won the war—San Jacinto.”

As he has tried numerous times before, the Colonel attempts to explain this Texas obsession to his friend. “In Texas, though, even lines drawn in the sand are never erased. And the Governor’s determined to tear down the old Hugo & Schmeltzer store. Calls it a fire trap. Says he wants to restore whatever remains underneath that wood frame as nearly as possible to its original condition. He’s threatening to take the Alamo back from the Daughters and have the State operate it.”

hugo schmeltzer alamo plaza
The Hugo Schmeltzer Store in its Alamo Building on the left blocks the view of the adjacent actual Alamo in this photograph from the collection of UTSA Libraries.

“Now that is a war the State would never win,” interjects John. “The Daughters will never give up the Alamo. Ironically, among those dragging their feet about moving out of the building are those who assist the ladies in our annual tribute to San Jacinto, the Carnival Association. Everybody has been out of town for the summer, and, as of yesterday, the association still has floats from last April parked on the premises.”

Mr. K’s face brightens. “Maybe they can just dust some of them off for the Labor Day Parade. Colonel, are you sure the Governor understands how major a celebration San Antonio throws for Labor Day? A stumper like him cannot possibly refrain from addressing that many voters. More than fifty unions will be on the march. There will a crowd of more than 5,000 at the fairgrounds.”

John laughs as he joins in the campaign to push the Colonel to convince the Governor to take an active role in the Labor Day festivities. “Plus, for the first time, the beer drivers have entered a candidate for queen, Miss Dora Hermann. And what could be more exciting than watching the fat men try to race seventy-five yards for a two-dollar-purse? Or the old men crawl fifty yards for the same?”

The Colonel clears his throat. “Ahem! The name of that contest is beginning to irritate me. You only have to be fifty years of age to qualify as ‘old.’ That age sounds a lot younger than ‘old’ with each passing year.” 

Andy rises to answer a knock at the outer door. “Excuse me, gentlemen, but Sheriff Tobin is here.”

Koehler nods at him. “Show him in, Andy.”

The Colonel stands and grasps the Sheriff’s hand. “Sheriff, you are browner than a gypsy.”

“Port O’Conner is my idea of heaven. The fishing was great. Redfish, trout, a six-foot tarpon and the hardest fighting mackerel I ever tackled.” The Sheriff places a newspaper in front of Mr. K. “But, I brought you the newspaper. I just came from the so-called ‘horse’ auction at Fort Sam Houston; the reporters were all over me.” 

“Did you buy anything?” asks John, as Mr. K picks up the paper.

“Do I look like a fool? Tenderfoots were paying $85 for unbroken little mustang ponies unfit for even herding milk cows. Those things were as wild as the day they were roped on the range.”

Mr. K lifts his head from the newspaper. “Picking on the musicians union picnic. Tom Campbell’s men made these fool laws. The only day most men have off to have a picnic with their families is Sunday. What do they expect? Union men to have picnics without beer? It’s bad enough everybody has to squeeze into San Pedro Park because George Brackenridge magnanimously presented a dry park to the city. No working man wants to spend his day off in a dry park.”

He winks as he offers his version of the beverages served at the picnic. “Of course, Sheriff, you realize they were not actually selling beer. They were selling tickets. A waiter would only accept a ticket for a bottle of beer.”

Not looking overly worried, the Sheriff waves a hand dismissively. “I told those pesky reporters that, if it were true that they were actually selling beer from the park concession on a Sunday, I would put a stop to it muy pronto. But I also told them it’d be impossible to get a conviction in this type of case because of the difficulty of proving a sale. You have to get the word out to them to be more discreet, though. The nitpicky Pros claim one of the waiters would offer to take fifty cents to buy a ticket for a customer and return directly with a beer.” 

“Do you think that will quiet them?” asks Mr. K.

“It sure better. People criticize me every time there’s a cockfight on the west side of town, the smallest bet wagered or a leak in a faucet. I come back to town, and they want to know whether I favor installing an incinerator. What in tarnation is wrong with burning garbage in the rock quarries? ‘But Sheriff,’ they say, ‘open carts hauling garbage through the streets attracts flies.’ Flies? They want me to worry about a few pesky flies? They have no idea what kind of crimes I am up against. With the small number of deputies I have, how can they expect me to detail a man to watch what’s clearly just an entertainment event given by the good musicians of this city? How do they expect me to break a man’s social habits? Self-righteous Pros expect people to act like they are in church twenty-four hours a day every day of the year.” 

“Pros!” growls Mr. K. Andy thinks newspaper-reading is not beneficial for his boss’ health. “That dreadnaught of the prohibition fleet is at it again, this time in Dallas. The newspaper says Tom Campbell’s back attacking the Governor. He claimed, ‘When the liquor advocates, and even the Governor himself, were making a fight for the saloons, it was stated that, if the saloons were not voted out, the tax rate would be fixed at ten cents. We did not vote the saloons out, and now they go ahead and fix the rate at twelve and a half cents.’ He has been trying to stir up a hornets’ nest about the large numbers of Mexicans and negroes who cared enough to pay the poll tax to vote in July. Does he not realize the right to drink is one they hold dear? Tom Campbell is scheming to put Pro candidates up for every office in the state. Too blind to notice he was voted out of office. Why will that man not retire to his law practice in Palestine?”

The Colonel smacks his right hand on the desk. “Those words and accusations, though, are exactly what we need to get the Governor mad enough to unpack politics from the recesses of his suitcase. I will get Governor Colquitt to the fairgrounds, gentlemen, and then I plan to join my family in Fredericksburg. My brother Emil is president of the Gillespie County Fair, and Sophie’s brother Charles is vice president. What do you think will be the beer of choice on the Gillespie County fairgrounds this year?”

~     ~     ~

As Mrs. Koehler would say, it is “hot, hot, hot” at the San Antonio fairgrounds. But Governor Colquitt rolls up his shirtsleeves and launches into a fiery speech. 

“The prohibitionists are trying to discredit me, saying I am no friend of labor. Well, one of Tom Campbell’s henchmen deliberately put a provision in the eight-hour bill to force me to veto it. The bill did not provide for emergencies.

“A fundamental rule began with the construction of Solomon’s Temple. Twenty-four hours should be divided into eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for recreation. And during those eight hours of recreation, a hard-working toiler deserves to have a drink if he so chooses.”

“You tell them, Governor!” shouts one of the beer drivers nearby, eliciting echoing cries throughout the grounds.

“I came to Texas a poor boy. I worked as a farm boy. I sawed wood. And I worked in a printing shop for $12.50 a month. I believe in good pay for honest work. I’ve been wrestling with the Legislature, or you could say the Legislature has been wrestling with me. If you’ll forgive the boast, I threw down both houses. If I cannot be Governor and govern, I will not be Governor. You need to send men to Austin who will give me a bill I can sign.”

“We will! We will!” Andy takes up the crowd’s pledge.

“The real travesty of justice was that July election. The prohibitionists tried to defeat the will of the people. They sought to imprison men who differ from them. Prohibitionists want to do as they please but extend no others the same privilege. Well, I tell you, the rights of individuals rise above arbitrary government. I have as much contempt for those Campbellites as I do for the judge who wanted to put Samuel Gompers in prison.”

More cheers of support arise from the crowds.

“I have pardoned more men during the eight months I have been in office than Governors Hogg, Culberson, Sayers, Lanham and—what’s that other man’s name?—than all of them combined. Yet I’m not finished. Because I believe many innocent men remain in jail. I measure my conduct by the rule: Do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

“I’m afraid of nothing except snakes that strike when one’s not looking, shooting poison through the veins, driving a man crazy or sending him to his grave.”

“What about the prohibitionists?” shouts a man near the front.

“They’re enough to drive a man crazy. But they’ve struck me so many times, I’m immune to their venom. I have no fear of them.”

Footnotes

The dislike between Otto Koehler and George Brackenridge was cultivated for years. The park bearing Brackenridge’s name seems to have absolved him from some of his earlier more self-serving actions.

Dwarfing the Alamo, those neon signs must have been quite spectacular. Alamo politics. Some things never change. San Antonio and the State of Texas still bicker passionately about how best to treat it and its plaza. The incident outside of Joske’s did not happen, but the Emma the Author envisions would not have hesitated to whack an impertinent whistler across the shin.

Continue to Chapter Twelve

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