the immortal alamo

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Thirteen

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Twelve

Andrew Stevens, November 1911

“Honey from Solms Apiary. The finest in the country, Andy. This nectar comes not from some common native American bee.” 

The Colonel has been waxing eloquent over a jar of honey for the past five minutes. Andy knits his eyebrows together and keeps his lips sealed tightly. Struggling, mightily struggling, to stifle the yawn rising from deep in his throat.

“The Carnacian bees that made this honey were imported to New Braunfels from high in the Alps. The Solms Apiary has sixty-two colonies of these bees, and the queens are prolific layers.”

Running later than normal, Mr. K steps briskly into his office. “Queens? Queen Emma held me prisoner in the kitchen this morning. Blocked my escape route with her chair and locked the wheels until she had no more words to unleash on me. I knew it was risky taking her to the Busches’ gilded celebration. Seems I neglected to mark our recent anniversary with tributes befitting royalty, and she wants to ensure I never make such a blunder again. How the Sultan can bear a whole harem of wives is beyond me. 

“Andy, when we finish, please send a ‘Who Can Beat It?’ advertisement over to the Express congratulating Frank Huntress for buying out Robert Maverick’s interest in the newspaper.”

“Yes, sir.” Andy looks up as his brother arrives.

“Quickly,” John orders. “Each of you must place one of these little white tags on your lapels. These tags will prevent you from being accosted by one of Bettie’s minions. Today is Tag Day for Charity, and, as Treasurer, Bettie is determined to break all records. I will take your donations to her, but these white tags will spare you from the harangues of the ladies stationed at every street corner until seven o’clock.”

“Thank you, John,” says Mr. K. “I already have endured all the haranguing a man can stand for one day.”

John makes himself at home in what has become his horned chair. “Well, the wind certainly is out of the sails of even our most blustery union men. We’ll not hear many demands from them for a while. I expected the McNamara trial in California to be livelier than a three-ring circus before the boys were found guilty. It came as a complete shock when the brothers pled guilty before things got underway.”

1911 bombing of los angeles times
The aftermath of the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building.

The Colonel weighs in on the verdict. “They killed twenty-one innocent people. It’s unbelievable that San Antonio’s unions rose so passionately to defend men accused of bombing The Los Angeles Times.”

Keeping the union men in line has occupied much of Mr. K’s attention lately. “More than mere passion was in evidence. San Antonio toilers contributed $11,000 toward the brothers’ defense by Clarence Darrow. Why ask us for pay raises when they have money to burn?”

John shrugs his shoulders. “President Hoefgen of the State Federation is astounded. His face looked as though the McNamaras had dropped the bomb in his lap. A month or two ago, he said he shared Samuel Gompers’ opinion that two poor innocents were framed. Now he claims the San Antonio men only sent money to ensure a fair trial.”

Disgusted, the Colonel grumbles. “Of course, labor turns around and elects Samuel Gompers to yet another term. Button workers. The meddler even is trying to stir up a revolt of the button workers in Iowa. Next thing you know he’ll try to organize William Gebhardt’s workers. Gebhardt churns out more than 12,000 bottles of chili powder a day. That genius imports fiery peppers from Mexico for pocket change; grinds them up; and then turns around and sells the powder right back to the Mexicans for a huge profit.”  

Mr. K returns the discussion to unions. “Gompers ought to go back to rolling cigars. Labor will be licking its wounds for quite a while, here and throughout the country. My hat’s off to the attorneys of Loewe’s Hats. Employing the Sherman Act against the union boycott. A brilliant maneuver. Claiming the boycott unfairly restrained interstate trade is certainly a better use of antitrust laws than chasing after the brewing industry. Paying triple damages plus substantial attorney’s fees to Loewe’s will intimidate union organizers everywhere.

“I trust you gentlemen do not mind, but I pledged Paul Meerscheidt money from both the brewery and Hot Sulphur Wells. He’s heading up efforts to raise $20,000 in subscriptions to purchase advertising up north this winter touting our temperate climate. We need to fill those hotel rooms at Hot Wells.”

hot wells hotel

The Colonel is primed to talk about their resort on the south side of town. “The filming of The Immortal Alamo at Hot Wells was thrilling. The next time Star Film Ranch wants to use our facility, couldn’t we obligate them contractually to feature Pearl? The Carreras Family reaped a fortune from sales of their tobacco mixture after the free advertising J.M. Barrie gave it in his book, My Lady Nicotine. How memorable are the author’s poignant musings extolling the pleasures of smoking over those of matrimony. He points out how marriage results in an additional bedroom, decorated in pink and gold, the door of which seems to be locked more often than not.

“But I digress. I envision a much improved story of the Alamo flickering on the big screen: Davy Crockett gasping for his last breath,” the Colonel gasps. “But not before he manages to raise himself up… to savor… the last remaining drop… in the bottle of Pearl on the nightstand.” 

John snickers at the Colonel. “Maybe Davy could dramatically grab one final bite of a Colonel-dog as well? We certainly hit a home run with the baseball convention this month. It’s the first time the National Association of Professional Leagues has ever met in a Class B city, and the baseball magnates left impressed. Several found the climate at Hot Wells so pleasant they’re staying on until the end of the year.”

the blue book

The Colonel pulls a blue pamphlet from his pocket to show the men. “I understand Loote’s Blue Book was in short supply. The baseball men found his new guide to the hospitable ladies of our sporting district quite helpful.” He casually flips through the pages. “And, although our wives forbade us to advertise in the directory directly, the Cozy Corner Bar’s advertisement, for the price of just one complimentary keg, features XXX Pearl quite prominently. And the Park Tavern’s lets a man know he can purchase a beer right there facing the main entrance to Brackenridge’s dry park.

“I imagine Billy Keilman probably enticed some poor pifflicated blokes into trying his Patent Plug cure. States right here in plain print that, if your room whirls like a flywheel in a powerhouse when you retire, you only need to insert one of his plugs anywhere in the wall to bring things to a standstill.”

John chuckles. “If that scoundrel Billy actually concocted such an aid for the inebriated, he’d be a millionaire many times over. I prefer to stop sipping before a room becomes a merry-go-round. And, should necessity dictate, I follow a restorative practice tested by time. A morning dram of the hair of the dog that bit you is more reliable than any plug in the wall.”

Mr. K tilts his glass up toward John before taking a swallow. “You’d think one of the baseball team owners would have enough common sense to load their boys and bats on a train and move here permanently. Why spend your winters snowbound up north when we have baseball weather here twelve months of the year?” 

“Pickled herring with mayonnaise and onions and a pint of beer on the side is the only cure,” opines the Colonel. John and Andy both wince as the Colonel continues. “Americans’ love of baseball distorts all logic. There are professional players who draw higher salaries than a Justice sitting on the Supreme Court.”

“The teams all sail to Cuba to train,” says John. “They like to practice against the Cubans, even though they get whooped every time. The Tigers, the Cubs, the Phillies—none of them can connect to that curveball Mendez throws. The scoreboards rarely reflect anything higher than zero.”

“Maybe we could import some of the Cubans to take up residence at Hot Sulphur Wells,” suggests the Colonel. 

Mr. K shakes his head. “We better stick to importing cigars. As the big leagues bar negroes from playing, you would have to give those Cubans a couple of coats of white paint first. The baseball leagues are the first major meeting hosted in the city, and the streets were not oiled properly. Dust covered everything. Why on earth can’t the city get the paving projects moving?”

“Mayor Callaghan was so infuriated that the aldermen refused to pass the budget,” explains John, “he held up appropriations for oiling the streets. Alderman Lipscomb got his back up over the paving of Zarzamora Street from Bandera to Fredericksburg Road, as he says, for a bunch of farmers whose oxen are accustomed to dirt roads anyway. He refuses to vote for any payments to the street department. Aldermen Richter and Mauermann rightly say either all of the city’s bills must be paid, or none. Albert Steves is smart enough to stay at home suffering from rheumatism, hardly as painful as the council meetings, while the poor city employees haven’t been paid for two months.”

The Colonel swings his right arm. “Mayor Callaghan has been swinging his gavel like a Mexican whacking weeds with a machete. The only motion that has passed in recent months is the one directing the Traction Company to resume referring to Brackenridge Park by its proper name—Waterworks Park.”

Leaning back with his hands behind his head, Mr. K smiles, relishing the removal of George Brackenridge’s name from the park. “I do prefer the ring of Waterworks.”

John continues. “After Alderman Mauermann presented the financial report, Alderman Fincham accused the whole finance committee of being in Callaghan’s pocket. Erich Menger was in the midst of discussing the street petitions, when Charles Fincham refused to take his seat. The Mayor slammed down his gavel, booming he was invoking Rule Number Five. The gadfly dared question the existence of such a rule, and Mayor Callaghan promptly had him escorted out of the chambers. Wouldn’t even let him grab his coat and hat. The Mayor smacked his gavel down again and called Joel Lipscomb out of order. Then he abruptly announced the meeting adjourned. Alderman Lipscomb objected, saying the Mayor couldn’t unilaterally proclaim the end of the meeting. The seething Mayor shouted his motion to adjourn is always in order and is not ever debatable. The Mayor told me afterwards he will never surrender to the insurgents.” 

The Colonel laughs over the Mayor’s characteristic behavior. “There was, however, a small citizens’ revolt on Pecan Street. Tired of getting their shoes dusty or muddy on the way to church, Missus Clark and Missus Wilson purchased their own materials. They hired a couple of Mexicans and now have a new sidewalk from the bridge to St. Mary’s Street. Cost them fifteen dollars total.”

Mr. K sighs with disgust. “So, unless we plan to pave them ourselves, or hire the pair of widowed sisters to take care of the job, dusty streets appear to be our lot. Andy, make sure the word gets to our saloon keepers to extend credit to city employees until the Mayor can wield that gavel effectively enough to get the city budget passed.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll send word out with the drivers in the morning.”

The Colonel picks up the narrative. “I must confess the convening of the Citizens League was not any more orderly. Just before the meeting, Chester Terrell remarked how tame Austin seemed since the legislative session ended; yet I think he must’ve hopped the next train back. Selig Deutschmann derailed the meeting right off the bat by introducing a resolution opposing every incumbent. He wanted to nominate a new candidate for every single office in the county. When Chester argued against it, Nat Lewis asked if he was an official member of the league. Judge Webb then moved that Chester be invited to address the meeting. But as soon as Chester resumed his argument, bedlam reigned. Everybody was up on their feet. Some stampeded for the door in protest, while others cheered him onward. By the time Judge Webb was able to restore order, Chester had fled. Of course, the fact that many of the opposition had left the meeting provided an ideal opportunity to gain control over the league. We elected A.H. Jones chairman, and the Finance Committee includes Ernest Altgelt, the younger-without-rheumatism Albert Steves, Franz Groos, Colonel Chapa and me.”

Mr. K shakes his head. “I fear Colonel Chapa has veered dangerously toward becoming a liability for us as well as Governor Colquitt. Colonel, why can’t he spend his time running his pharmacy or grinding corn with his compadre Martinez?”

botica del leon
Francisco Chapa’s Botica del Léon ~ Photograph from the Francisco A. Chapa Family Papers housed in the Special Collections Department of UTSA Libraries

“His Botica del Léon is located ideally on the borderline between the Santa Rosa Hospital and the red-light district. He can attract respectable patients exiting the hospital and fulfill the immense demand for restoratives or industry-related medical treatments for welcoming ladies and their clientele. But tortillas are cheap,” snorts the Colonel. “Nobody is going to get rich making masolina.”

Mr. K objects. “You are mistaken there, Colonel. That is the business venture your compadre Colonel Chapa needs to mind most. It might be true Señor Martinez almost went broke a couple of years ago, but now he has perfected his process for grinding corn. I toured his Tamalina Milling Company yesterday. There are 10,000 Mexicans who eat tortillas three times a day living almost on the factory’s doorsteps. The train loads and unloads at his back door. He can store 75,000 bushels of corn, and his mill can turn out 180,000 pounds of corn products every single day. Masolina for tortillas, cornmeal for southerners and corn chops for livestock. Chapa should focus on masa for the masses instead of dangerously dabbling in the wobbly politics of Mexico. Posting the $10,000 bond for General Reyes hardly appears impartial.”

“Otto, when Colonel Chapa brought General Reyes and his secretaries—fashionable Mexican dandies they were—to meet the Governor, he assured the Governor that General Reyes was not here to foment a revolution across the border. The General only wanted protection. President Madero believes otherwise, however. The lobbies of every downtown hotel are teaming with Mexican not-so-secret police.”

“Colonel Chapa’s arrest makes it obvious,” states Mr. K. “The federal government is not going to wink as Governor Colquitt allows San Antonio to serve as headquarters for each successive wave of Mexican rebels plotting to overthrow their government. Before the Reyistas set up headquarters on San Pedro Avenue….”

“Seems more like Avenida San Pedro lately,” the Colonel interjects.

“Not long ago, Francisco Madero was the one here scheming to overthrow Diaz,” continues Mr. K. “Many mocked him, saying his visions of leading rebels to overthrow the Mexican government were unrealistic. Even his father and grandfather scoffed at his aspirations. Yet there he is. The bookworm is now President.”

John lights the cigar he has been prepping. “Our business interests are thriving again under President Madero. The output at Panuco Mines is up. Lucius Lamar says there’s no shortage of men who prefer grabbing a pickax and heading underground to the hardships encountered after enlisting in, or being commandeered into, the service of this or that rebel army.” 

Mr. K lights up as well, exhaling his first puff upward. “We would be lost without Lucius. We’d have no rubber interests in Mexico if he hadn’t served as our emissary to Evaristo Madero. His friendship with the Maderos led us to that two-million-acre lease covered with guayule shrubs—future automobile wheels. Our coal would go nowhere if Lucius hadn’t facilitated our rail connection between the Panuco Mines and Monclova. While every other American flees the country, he somehow maneuvers his way around. No matter who’s in power, he negotiates with the forces for whatever they need to secure passage. Loads up his locomotive—‘Lamar’ boldly emblazoned on the sides—with coal for the south and returns with corn for the north. And, amazingly, all sides let the train pass through unmolested.”

lamar train
Lucius Mirabeau Lamar train

John passes his hand over the ashtray just barely before the ash dropped downward. “His parents lost their plantation in Georgia, so he and a brother decided to seek their fortunes in Mexico. Lucius understands Mexicans. He’s always been close to the Maderos, but he also knows when to slip into the background and act the innocent American. You know, his wife tired of waiting for his rather infrequent visits up to Eagle Pass. She moved the rest of the family into a house on Main Avenue. She told Bettie it was time to tend to the children’s education. I visited with their son Luke at the Menger wedding, and I doubt Missus Lamar will be letting him return to Mexico any time soon.”

“He certainly is a strapping lad for only fifteen,” observes the Colonel, now contributing to the growing cloud of smoke in the office. Andy rises to crack the window wider.

John nods approval at Andy, as he continues. “Well, for such a young man, Luke has some frightening tales. Said his father picked him up in a Lexington Roadster. Once they pulled out of Piedras Negras, they saw almost no one. Not even burros. He asked his papa where everyone was, and Lucius said simply, ‘Lots of them are dead.’ Luke saw things in the distance dangling from telegraph poles and inquired about them. His father said they were men who were on the wrong side of whatever forces most recently passed through their neighborhood.”

“I can certainly understand why his mother doesn’t want him headed back down that way. Do you think he exaggerates?” asks the Colonel.

John shakes his head. “He seemed sincere. His father Lucius is unfazed by the dangers. Wanted to take him fishing on the Alamos near the Rosita Mine, but the Comandante told them to lock themselves in their house in Sabinas because rebels were coming. Instead, they went up on the rooftop of a factory behind their house to get a bird’s-eye-view of the battle. Watched all of the soldiers’ women take the last railcar out. They stayed up there while the guns were banging away, that is until a bullet ricocheted right by Luke’s cheek.”

The Colonel makes a wry face. “Seems it would have been wiser to hitch a ride with the women than risk having people peering down at their coffins remarking what a great job the undertaker did of hiding the bullet holes.”

John resumes the long-winded story. “By the next day, there were no soldiers from either side left in town. Lucius decided to forego the fishing to get Luke back to Eagle Pass. They armed themselves with forged documents with lots of colorful seals authorizing passage by every possible revolutionary his father could name. Fortunately, the only times they were stopped on the road out of Mexico were by men too ignorant to determine if the papers were upside down or right side up, much less if they were legitimate.”

Mr. K’s brows meet. “That story does not make our Mexico investments sound very safe. Hope your Herefords are proving more reliable, John.”

“Otto, they require more care, but the meat certainly is tenderer than that of those old straggly longhorns roaming the ranch when I bought it. What I can’t understand, though, is Ed Lasater. Chester Terrell said he chartered the Falfurrias Jersey Dairy Company with capital stock of $1 million. Replacing all his longhorns with Jersey cows, close to 2,000 of them on his 40,000 acres. How can a cowman switch to Jerseys?”

The Colonel pats his paunch with both his hands. “Rich cream and butter are certainly among my favorite things. Plus, you don’t have to kill the cow to reap a profit. The colored gardener at Henry Drought’s has to kill an animal to make a sale, but he’s smart enough to sell something he can get for free. That darned Willie McCullough is trying to get a patent for his mandolins made from armadillo shells. I bought one to take up to Fredericksburg because Sophie’s family constantly complains that armadillos serve no purpose on earth. Willie says the folks in the kitchen were always poking fun at him, but no more. He has visions of selling millions of the mandolins because there ‘shuah be a heap of dem critters in dis state.’”

John chuckles. “While you were plucking an armadillo’s tummy, Colonel, I was visiting with Sheriff Tobin. He said Judge Dwyer instructed the grand jury to enforce the Robinson Fitzhugh laws strictly. The judge says he wants to stamp out temptation, eradicate gambling and rid San Antonio of our colorful dives. Wants all saloons to be orderly. No lewd women allowed. Has this man forgotten his Irish roots? Dictates all saloons must close at midnight, with absolutely no sales on Sunday. Not even through the back door.”

Mr. K raises his voice. “The Sheriff always has had his men well-trained to avoid hearing the slamming of a saloon’s back door. Why does Judge Dwyer give a pfennig about what happens out back? If Bible-thumpers do not want to be offended, they should stay out of the alleys.”

The Colonel slaps his knee in agreement. “With our fortunes under siege by Mexican rebels and the prohibitionists—unless we can get our hands on the $30-million in gold Kaiser Wilhelm has stacked up in the Julius Tower at Spandau—maybe our best bet is to invest in old Willie’s mandolins. How about forming The Pearl of Texas Armadillo Band? Do you sing, Otto?”

Footnotes

Labor politics of the day were as stormy as those of prohibition and presumably remained near the top of concerns for the brewery owners.

Among the numerous partnerships involving the officers was ownership of Hot Sulphur Wells, the riverside ruins of which are incorporated in a Bexar County park.

The Author assumes you have noticed she is playing with the Colonel. Her version of him keeps coming up with silly-sounding promotional schemes that actually become accepted marketing practices years later. Product placement in films. Brewery-sponsored bands. And the soon-to-be-widely-used name for a common festival food, Colonel-dogs. A man before his time.

The Blue Book was an amazing little publication. Seems difficult to envision 1911 San Antonio with a designated red-light district publicly promoted to tourists. Ah, if only Billy Keilman’s Patented Plug for Pifflicated People truly worked.

Leaders of different factions in Mexico during these unstable years often set up headquarters in San Antonio while they schemed to return to power. Francisco A. Chapa, named a Colonel by Governor Colquitt, was caught taking sides too conspicuously for the federal government to ignore.

The referenced mining and rubber interests were included in the trio’s portfolio. Lucius Mirabeau Lamar (1866-1931) was the Author’s Mister’s maternal great grandfather and was a neighbor of the Madero family in Mexico. The stories relating to his adventures in Mexico are based on things Grandma shared and a wonderful more detailed and less guarded family history, Shards, left behind by her brother, Lucius Mirabeau Lamar, III. The only invented portion here is the relationship of Lucius with the beer men. Someone had to be looking after their investments in Mexico, and their imagined connection to Lamar seems so plausible the Author convinced herself it existed.

Continue to Chapter Fourteen

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