pancho villa film set

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Sixty

Above, Pancho Villa, some of his men and members of production crew on the Mutual Film Corporation set, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Fifty-Nine

Andrew Stevens, March 1914

“You never think of buttons much, Andy,” says Mr. K examining a small white one in his hand that should be attached at the collar of his shirt, “until one is missing.”

“I have a spare shirt for you in my office. Would you like for me to get it now or right before your lunch meeting?”

Button workers in Muscatine, Iowa, National Pearl Button Museum

“After I meet with the Colonel will be fine,” answers Mr. K, still contemplating the button. “Iowa had a flourishing button industry. They carved pearl buttons from clamshells. Then the button workers went out on strike for a year or two. The shortage of those clam buttons made people realize the importance of the lowly button.”

The Colonel arrives, but Mr. K does not pause. “But the strike struck an unintended fatal blow to the demand for carved clam shells. There is a palm nut found in Ecuador that resembles a miniature black head. After harvesting and drying, the negrito kernels resemble ivory. Perfect for buttons. They absorb dyes and can be polished. The United States now imports 10,000 tons of tagua nuts a year. The tagua button industry employs 10,000 workers.”

“I often wonder,” muses the Colonel, “if our employees pay attention to the negative results workers of other industries encounter when demanding raise upon raise. Otto, you were fortunate to escape after lunch at the Saint Anthony yesterday. After waxing eloquent about the talented thespians found in America, the British admiral insisted that Colonel Chapa and I to take him to see some vaudeville acts. We hastily arranged for a party at the Majestic. You missed the Meyako twin sisters. The petite Japanese contortionists made walking upstairs balanced on their hands appear as easy as it is for us with our feet.”

“It sounds like a horrid evening.”

“Oh, it got worse, Otto. The sisters endeavored to sing popular American songs with their little Japanese accents. In contrast, that act was followed by the Primrose Four, billed as a 1,000-pound harmony team. A quartet of four gigantic songbirds.”

“Was the esteemed British guest impressed?” asks Mr. K.

“Thanked us enthusiastically for entertaining him in capital fashion.”

“Any political news?”

“Tom Campbell was in Austin yesterday. He claimed he and his wife were there on personal business, but he held court all day in the lobby of the Driskill Hotel for a continual stream of his cronies backing his prohibition stance like a frog chorus on Buffalo Bayou.”

“I understand, Colonel, that he predicts the prohibition forces will succeed in nominating Tom Ball for governor this summer.”

“Yes. The so-called ‘constructive’ Democrats gathering in Fort Worth expressed unity in an anyone-but-Tom-Ball platform but failed to identify who that anyone might be. Farmer Jim declined to appear at their meeting.”

Mr. K lets out a grunt of disgust. “Surely that bumpkin James Ferguson is not our only hope for staving off prohibition! Andy, what did you glean from slipping in to hear his speech at the Gunter Hotel last night?”

Andy flips through his notepad. “On the liquor question, Mister Ferguson said any sort of legislation on that question will get a veto where the chicken got the ax. The material welfare of Texas amounts to more than worrying whether a man should take a drink at 9:29 or wait until 9:31. The man who appeals for support only on the cause of prohibition or anti-prohibition is not big enough to be deacon of a negro church.”

“Hardly a fitting analogy.” The Colonel shakes his head. “Those negro Baptist preachers sermonizing from their pulpits sway massive flocks to forego the pleasures found in a bottle.”

Mr. K briefly pinches his nose. “We might be forced to hold our noses and open our wallets to fund James Ferguson on the promise of that veto alone. Even our current Governor has let some unfavorable legislation pass across his desk. What else did the coarse rube have to say?”

“Mister Ferguson said the farmers of Texas are with him—Pro or Anti alike. He claimed the men of every labor union in the state are for him. He asked if San Antonians wanted someone to deliver them a bunch of buncombe like Tom Ball, or someone to handle the business of running the state, indicating himself.”

“And what was the response of the crowd?” asks the Colonel.

“They stood up and whooped for him, waving their hats high above their heads.”

“Thank you for reporting back to us, Andy,” says Mr. K.

“And, sir, there is one more thing you might want to know. Mister Ferguson attacked Sheriff Tobin. He went after him for endorsing Sam Sparks for governor. He said Mister Sparks is nothing but the paid lobbyist of peace officers who are for him because he keeps the infamous fee system on the law books of the state. Sparks is the lobbyist who makes it possible for constables to earn more than Justices of the Supreme Court and sheriffs to draw more pay than the Governor of Texas. The crowd was nodding in agreement.”

“I would never mention the topic to Sheriff Tobin,” says Mr. K, “but that is indeed a main part of the attraction the sheriff has for Sam Sparks.”

The Colonel sniffs. “I certainly will take more pleasure backing Governor Colquitt for Senator. Tom Campbell once again is playing coy about whether he’s running. Told a reporter the Senate race is a long way off, saying ‘I may never run for office again, and again I might.’”

“As spineless as a jellyfish,” hisses Mr. K. “He fears losing the fray.”

“As he should,” says the Colonel. “Governor Colquitt is unflinching. He all but announced his intentions to run for Senate at the Cattle Raisers’ Association in Fort Worth.”

“How was he received?”

“The cattlemen along the border,” answers the Colonel, “are fed up with rustlers plundering their herds and then seeking refuge across the border. They cheered the news of the retrieval of the body of Elemente Vergara from Mexican soil, whether in violation of international neutrality laws or not. The rancher had been grazing his horses on this side of the Rio Grande when he was kidnapped, tortured, shot and hung. The murdering bandits are Mexican soldiers in somebody’s army. Who can tell anymore with all the warring factions?”

“So how did the Governor get the body returned, Colonel?”

“An interesting question. And you are not alone in asking. In frustration, the Governor wrote Secretary of State Bryan to ask to whom he should address a request in Mexico in order to comply with existing treaties, politely reminding the secretary that there are two Mexicans claiming to be governor of Nuevo Leon and that President Wilson does not recognize anyone as officially in charge of Mexico period.”

“And the answer?”

“All the federal government offers is to put more troops on the border, which accomplishes absolutely nothing once a bandito crosses to the other side of the Rio Grande. The army is not authorized to execute civil writs anyway. And half the forces from Fort Bliss are tied up guarding the 5,000 Federal troops who fled Mexico to this side of the river after Pancho Villa routed them at the Battle of Ojinaga.”

“The always-surprising Pancho. We dismiss him as a buffoon who spends all his time drinking, olé-ing at bullfights, betting on cockfights and womanizing. But he knows how to motivate his men, scruffy-looking lot as they are. Even women trade their necklaces for bandoleers and take up arms to fight by his side. And now an American film company has elevated him to a heroic Robin Hood status.”

Pancho Villa and some of his men, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress

“A reporter,” says the Colonel, “asked El Jefe where he stood on resolving the issue of border kidnappings, and he replied that he had cut the wires on the subject.”

“Not only on the subject. Pancho Villa has cut almost every telegraph wire in northern Mexico. He’s an enormous obstacle lodged between us and our investments in the interior.”

“President Huerta has been trying to liberate his lily-livered troops from American soil, but President Wilson refuses to budge,” says the Colonel. “The Hague Treaty dictates that if a group of belligerents at war takes refuge in another country not involved in the fighting, the country must intern them for the duration of the war.”

“And President Wilson keeps invoking the same neutrality principles to prevent the Governor from unleashing the Texas Rangers in Mexico.”

“Yes. Otto, the governor complains President Huerta gives him permission to cross the border to pursue criminals, but President Wilson doesn’t. Oddly, Mexico responds quickly. With Washington, it’s always manana, manana, manana. The Governor proclaims he could accomplish more with 100 Texas Rangers than with 10,000 hamstrung government troops. It only took nine men to sneak into Mexico in the middle of the night and fetch that corpse for the grieving widow.”

“So were the nine indeed Texas Rangers?”

“I did not confess to that.” The Colonel holds up his empty hands as if to convey his innocence. “Most of the men were friends and ranch hands of the family. The official line is that the Governor requested President Huerta to arrange for the return of the body, and he complied. The body was delivered to Rangers waiting on the American side of the bridge. Of course, there’s still the matter of the eleven seized horses. The rancher’s daughter traveled to Hidalgo and spotted three of them, brands in plain sight, being ridden by members of the identified federal captain’s bodyguard. Bypassing Washington again, the Governor sent a telegram about them to El Presidente Huerta yesterday.”

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” John enters the office and jumps right into the conversation. “And, Colonel, I heard our Governor also went so far as to say he wouldn’t bow down to worship the golden idol in Washington. Said he’d never stoop down to kiss anybody’s toe in the capital city.”

“Well, John,” says the Colonel, “after learning of Senator Sheppard’s speech in the Senate, the Governor was madder than a wet hornet. The favorite of tea-steepers, Senator Sheppard claimed to explain the Mexican situation to those not from Texas. Said Americans minding their own business are not molested inside or outside Mexico. He said most so-called Americans living along the border actually are Mexicans anyway. Said the troubles were all in the Governor’s mind and that his foolhardy behavior would drive the country unnecessarily into war.”  

Mr. K grunts his disapproval. “With Senator Culberson’s continual absence and Senator Sheppard’s coddling of President Wilson and the dry crowd, the majority of Texans stand unrepresented.”

“As with many teetotalers,” adds the Colonel, “Senator Sheppard clamors to give women the vote.”

Mr. K slaps his hand down flat on his desk. “We need to keep funding efforts to nip that effort in the bud. How are the efforts of our Farmers’ Educational and Cooperative Union going?”

“The pseudo-writers we hire,” begins John. “Wait. Little brother, put down your pen. This is a conversation you must forget.”

Andy complies with the order.

“The writers of the cooperative union,” continues John, “are churning out article after article about issues of concern to farmers. The testimonies the farmers offer are convincing, even though there are no actual farmers offering them. Eager to receive the free contributions for their newspapers, the country editors around the state are lapping them up.”

The Colonel chuckles, picking up a copy of the Coleman Daily Voice from the top of the pile of papers he had brought in from his office. “I particularly enjoyed the one by our favorite fake farmer. ‘I follow the plow for a living and my views may have in them the smell of the soil. Why is woman weary of the God-given jewel of motherhood? Can ambition leap to more glorious heights than to enjoy the pitter-patter of children’s feet? The home is woman’s throne. Why crave authority when man bows down and worships her? Man has given woman his heart, his name and his money. What more does she want?’”   

John puts his hands together and looks toward the heavens. “God save us from a hen-pecked nation. That particular opinion piece from our farmer ran in the Cumby Rustler, the Honey Grove Signal, Coleman, West, Mexia, Sulphur Springs, Jacksboro, all over the state.”

“God save me,” says Mr. K, “from the ire of Emma is she ever found out about this clandestine campaign of ours against women’s suffrage. And if she knew that crafty old Adolphus promised the late Suffragette Phoebe Couzins a lifetime annuity to publicly renounce suffrage and campaign against prohibition, his life might have ended earlier than it did.”

“If women of rural Texas ever get the vote, we will be out of business,” says the Colonel.

Andy’s eyes follow his brother as he starts pacing the room. “Only last week a pair of lady lawyers from New York, one of them trousered, went to Washington and threw down the gauntlet. They warned Democrats of the political wrath they’ll face from the three million women who already have the vote unless a constitutional amendment is moved forward granting all women that right.”

Mr. K counts on his fingers. “Colorado, Idaho, Washington, California, Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, Illinois. Women can vote in all these states. The next congressional and presidential elections will indeed be harder to control. Oh, and Utah. Certainly is no secret how the women in that state feel about the prohibition cause.”

“I read this morning that Suffragettes seek freedom from suffering as slaves to fashion.” The Colonel snickers. “Want to abandon corsets. This lady doctor at the hygienic fashion institute in Boston claims half of the divorces in this country are caused by corsets.”

“Corsets?” John stops in his tracks. “Does the doctor suggest women let bellies flop about and bosoms droop into soup at the table?”

“She claims corsets first cause indigestion, then headaches, then backaches and then a host of even more sympathetic head-to-toe ailments. The result of being trussed up tightly like a turkey at Thanksgiving? A sour disposition.”

“I see her point,” nods Otto. “A grouchy wife with chronic headaches certainly serves as fertile ground for the seeds of divorce.”

“On the home front,” says John flopping back into his chair, “Mayor Brown’s cracking down on police. His new rules forbid them from ever drinking on duty, which is somewhat reasonable. But he has taken it a step farther and says a policeman must never appear drunk in public, even off duty.”

The Colonel appears quite shocked over this bit of news. “Are you saying he would fire an otherwise good policemen for drinking on his own time?”

“If appearing inebriated, yes,” answers John. “And your Colonel Chapa is ensuring we all must now obtain an official chauffer’s license to operate our automobiles on the streets of San Antonio. No one under sixteen may apply. Police are being directed to pursue joyriders and drunken drivers.”

“The motorcycle policemen already are hiding out along River Avenue to catch those exceeding the speed limit,” says the Colonel. “Yesterday afternoon, one arrested my son Chester. I understand arresting the joyriders who speed past streetcars unloading passengers or pulling over strangers speeding through a neighborhood, but they should not harass a man they know is a block from his own home.”

“Like a horse heading back to the barn, was he?” asks Mr. K. “Surely the officer understood Chester takes his role of Lieutenant of the Automobile Club’s Chevrolet teams seriously. A man needs to practice somewhere.”

“Well, he does have a lead foot on the pedal,” concedes the Colonel.

“I was at City Hall earlier today, Otto,” says John, “when they opened the paving bids. There seemed great confusion about what materials would be used. Rock asphalt, wood blocks. The bids appear like comparing apples to oranges. Your Texas Trap Rock Company’s bid did sound competitive though.”

Mr. K grins. “Hard to beat our price of eighty-eight cents per ton for crusher. Also submitted bids for smaller sized trap rock, which is more expensive. We said we could deliver anywhere between 4,000 to 10,000 tons.”

John shakes his head. “For some reason, Alderman Warren wanted to delay the process and solicit more contractors.”

“That’s outrageous!” snaps Mr. K.

“The aldermen didn’t allow him to do so.” John reassures Mr. K. “The City Engineer was instructed to evaluate all the proposals and report back next week. It will take a lot of your rock to fill Commerce Street back in now that the Alamo National Bank move is complete. A lot is happening there. Missus Stumberger is razing the old Frank Brothers Building for a modern six-story structure, and Alfred Giles is remodeling the Terrell Block on the south side of the street. And Alamo Bank just announced architect James Wahrenberger has been hired to crown the bank with another three stories.”

Mr. K nods approval. “He certainly did a fine job assisting on the Lone Star Brewery. That’ll make the bank the first eight-story building on Commerce Street.”

Workers moving the Alamo National Bank, UTSA Libraries Special Collections

“It still mystifies me,” says the Colonel, “how that Chicago contractor managed to budge that heavy a building.”

John gestures toward Andy. “Andy can tell you anything you could possibly want to know. And more. He passed by daily to monitor progress, peering underneath, questioning the workers.”

Andy’s favorite topic. “Sir, the building weighs 15-million pounds. Trenches were dug underneath and huge timbers were positioned for support. Once the 1,800 jack screws were in placed in ten rows, the contractor claimed one man alone could have moved it if time wasn’t critical. Of course, that would take a long time, so he used crews of thirty to forty men. The whole building was lifted an inch and was fit to accommodate 1,600 steel rollers on ten lines of track to slide it very, very slowly. A total distance of sixteen feet. Furniture and all.”

Mr. K emits a low whistle, “Amazing. The bank never once locked its doors during its normal hours of operation. Customers merely had to walk across planks and step up one inch higher than normal.”

“Fiesta fever is beginning to spread excitement downtown.” John changes the direction of the conversation to prevent Andy from contributing any additional trivia about moving the bank. “On my way here, I stopped by the Fiesta den on Oak Street. Glitter and tinsel of all colors of the rainbow were everywhere. Otto, your artist friend Herbert Barnard has a large force of artisans scurrying about at his command to complete the floats for the Fiesta San Jacinto parade. The theme is focused on famous scenes from famous plays.”

“Due to the fire at Beethoven Hall,” says the Colonel, “the coronation of the queen will be held in the Majestic Theater. A good option in that it accommodates more spectators.”

“And you are about to host yet another bridal coronation at home, Colonel,” says Mr. K.

“With Emmie’s wedding following so close on the heels of Jennie’s, you would think finalizing arrangements would be a piece of cake. Yet Sophie and the girls flutter about debating minutiae as though life and death decisions.”

“Count your blessings, Colonel,” says John. “At least your house is not filled with mud this time around.”

“I think I will have it the worst,” mutters Mr. K. “Every time Hettie witnesses one of your children’s ceremonies, she leaves full of ideas for hers. Each wedding evidently is the most beautiful one she has ever seen. Each one has perfect flower arrangements. The tastiest cake. The most memorable music. And increasingly more expensive gowns. My only request will be that it take place at home. When her turn comes, I best flee to Germany until she and Emma have settled all the rest of the plans.”

“So, her young beau Frank,” says the Colonel, “is beginning to grow on you?”

“Hetties’s young. He is not. Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to change into a shirt with a proper set of buttons.”

Footnotes

Jim Ferguson made his first official gubernatorial campaign speech in Blum, Texas, on March 21, and he spoke at the Gunter Hotel a week later. Prohibition politics did indeed make strange bedfellows.

The Author failed to make a judgment as to whether Governor Colquitt actually authorized Texas Rangers to slip into Mexico for clandestine middle of the night bodysnatching, but he did receive much attention throughout the country. If you have never viewed any film footage or photos of Pancho Villa at the Battle of Ojinaga, get thee to the internet. As much of the fighting occurred at night, some of the scenes were restaged for cameras during the day.

Your Author is not the originator of the prohibition schemes of Adolph Busch and the Texas breweries mentioned in this chapter. They are discussed by author Daniel O’Krent in his book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. This Author did follow up and find the farmer’s repetitive verbiage in numerous newspapers over a six-month period. Previously an ardent prominent Suffragette, Phoebe Couzins (1842-1913) abruptly demonstrated a change of heart in 1897.

And a clarification for readers alarmed that the Author’s inclusion of the Majestic Theater is an anachronism—this is not the same theater as the one located on Houston Street today. Karl Hoblitzelle’s first Majestic in San Antonio also was an atmospheric one designed by architect John Eberson. The 2,000-plus-seat theater opened on November 24, 1913, and was located at 207 North Main Avenue; it no longer stands. 

Continue to Chapter Sixty-One

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