That Crabby Old Colonel Cribby Condemned the River Walk to Years of Lowlife Nightlife

Blue Book No. 4, "Go West Young Men," Digital Collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Early 1900s' postcard of some of San Antonio's blue ladies is combined with a period mini-postcard image of "Roll Call at Fort Sam Houston" and a page from "The Blue Book."  The page is headlined "Directory of Houses and Women - Class-A" and lists the names and addresses of some of San Antonio's welcoming women in 1911.  Visit www.postcardsfromsanantonio.com.
Blue Book No. 4, “Go West Young Men,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Early 1900s’ postcard of some of San Antonio’s blue ladies is combined with a period mini-postcard image of “Roll Call at Fort Sam Houston” and a page from “The Blue Book.” The page is headlined “Directory of Houses and Women – Class-A” and lists the names and addresses of some of San Antonio’s welcoming women in 1911. Visit http://postcardssanantonio.com.

I had always heard the banks of the San Antonio River Walk were declared off-limits after dark for members of the military in San Antonio for many years, but I had never seen proof:

The area known as the “River Walk” is “Off Limits” during the periods 2400 hours to 0600 hours daily. It begins at Lexington Street, near the Auditorium, and extends about three hundred yards west of St. Mary’s Street, near the Plaza Hotel.

Office of the Provost Marshal, Fort Sam Houston, December 20, 1945

Melissa Gohlke, blogging for the Special Collections at the UTSA Libraries this morning, posted a 1945 list enumerating San Antonio’s lewd spots, so declared by order of Colonel Cribby.

off-limits-list

Although designed to serve as a warning to soldiers, this list was almost as efficient a guide for “those seeking a good time while in San Antonio, Texas,” as the 1911-1912 guide, The Blue Book. Col. Cribby’s list not only identified which places around town were “off-limits,” but why – whether because of immorality, prostitution, danger of venereal disease or gambling.

Gohlke’s post pertained to “San Antonio’s queer community,” but the list aided those in search of bisexual entertainment as well:

All a GI or WAC need do is read the list, understand the codes, and head out for a night of same-sex recreation. Ironically, the military imperative to regulate deviance facilitated the very behaviors such regulations were designed to stamp out.

Some of the same neighborhoods identified in The Blue Book were still hot spots flourishing under the eyes of lax local law enforcement three decades later.

The Blue Book No. 1, "See Sallie after the Alamo," digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. The back cover of the 1911-1912 edition of "The Blue Book" reads "For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me. Meet me at the Beauty Saloon."  This image is combined with advertisements, including Sallie Brewer's, from an inside page of the guide to San Antonio's "Sporting District," a red light and an early 1900s' postcard of The Alamo. Visit   http://www.postcardsfromsanantonio.com/blue_book.htm.
The Blue Book No. 1, “See Sallie after the Alamo,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. The back cover of the 1911-1912 edition of “The Blue Book” reads “For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me. Meet me at the Beauty Saloon.” This image is combined with advertisements, including Sallie Brewer’s, from an inside page of the guide to San Antonio’s “Sporting District,” a red light and an early 1900s’ postcard of The Alamo. Visit http://postcardssanantonio.com.

But what about today? This is from the fact sheet for visitors of participants in Lackland Air Force Base’s Basic Training Program:

Off Limits Areas and Establishments

The San Antonio Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board has placed establishments off-limits to help maintain the health, morale, and welfare of Armed Forces personnel. Your Airman may not visit these  establishments and will know which ones they will not be able to service prior to town pass.

The River Walk has been family-friendly for decades, but now I am curious about what places in San Antonio are deemed too or lascivious or dangerous for today’s military. This list, not nearly as clear and complete a guide to local entertainment as the 1941 blacklist, is from a 2009 edition of the Lackland Talespinner:

The following locations are off-limits:

• Cracker Box Palace – 622 W. Hildebrand • Planet K – all locations in the following counties: Bexar, Atascosa, Wilson, Guadalupe, Comal, Kendall, Medina and Bandera • Voodoo Tattoo Parlor – 202 Aransas • Players Club (PC) of San Antonio – 8235 Vicar • Boys Town – Acuna, Mexico • Widows Web Bar and Night Club – Acuna, Mexico • The Up and Down Club – Acuna, Mexico

With no Blue Book or more detailed list available on base, what’s a newcomer in search of a little lascivious behavior to do?

It’s so simple nowadays. Just follow those huge “come-hither” billboards around north Loop 410 or grab a free issue of San Antonio Current for pages and pages of full-color “service” ads.

Looking for a feel-good holiday story? Don’t click here.

Hola my Teresa, I’m thinkin’ of you now in San Antonio.
I have 27 dollars, and the good luck of your picture framed in gold.
Tonight I’ll put it all on the fighting spurs of Gallo del Cielo,
Then I’ll return to buy the land Pancho Villa stole from father long ago

Gallo del Cielo by Tom Russell
 
Men lay down their bets on their roosters on this plate produced in San Antonio by San Jose Pottery.

I’ve listened to Joe Ely weaving the sad tale toward the inevitable death of El Gallo countless times.  It’s tragic, but I dismiss it as more of a folk tale than a current event. 

After all, one of my favorite possessions is a cockfighting plate produced in San Antonio by Ethel Harris’ San Jose Pottery

And I find it amusing to reflect on San Antonio’s rough and tumble past as evidenced in the pages of the 1911-1912 edition of The Blue Book, a visitors’ guide to the city’s red light district.  In addition to a multitude of brothels just south and west of City Hall, there were at least two cock pits – Ogden’s and Monterrey – located on South Santa Rosa.  I even incorporated their ads in one of my Blue Book series of prints:

The Blue Book No. 2. The Blue Book's listings for cock pits on South Santa Rosa Avenue in downtown San Antonio is combined with images of roosters and a period map of the area. Edition of 25. 10 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches.

 

“Mayor Callaghan crowed at City Hall during the week, but spirited fights could be found just two blocks to the west on weekends.”

The palenque, or cock pit, in Real de Catorce

The palenque, or cock pit, in the former ghost town of Real de Catorce remains one of my favorite landmarks to explore.  But that is made easier because I was not with my husband and his younger brother when they stumbled upon men placing their bets on an actual cockfight there. 

During one of our jaunts to Mexico, I tried to convince my husband we should buy the ruins of the palenque in Mineral de Pozos, a former ghost town near San Miguel de Allende, to incorporate in a retirement home for us (one of many ill-conceived notions expressed during more than three decades of marriage from which he wisely has managed to divert my attention until common sense returned, albeit always on a fleeting basis). 

"A Competitor and His Cock," Haiti, June 2010, photograph by Vic Hinterlang

Our friend Vic pulled out his camera in Haiti this past June to document a cockfight at Delmas 31.  When he lagged on posting a follow-up, I feared he was hooked and was out training a cock of his own.  But my fears were groundless; he simply was flying back to Austin.

Cockfighting is something I prefer to pretend only occurs in the past tense, or, at least, takes place in some other country.  The world is becoming a kinder, more gentle place (dream on, Gayle).  But, in support of this argument, Spanish Catalonians recently enacted legislation drawing an end to their deeply entrenched tradition of bullfighting. 

Periodically, media intefere with my naive theories.  The other day, I made the mistake of reading Brandi Grissom’s coverage of cockfights, and their aftermath, outside of Dallas for Texas Tribune

One by one, Domanick Muñoz pulled bloody and battered bodies out of a pile of feathers, claws and beaks. Roosters that were still gasping for life….

The posted videos are not for the faint of heart.  Grissom makes it impossible to continue in a state of denial.  Cockfighting is not something that should be included in “It’s a Texas thing.”

Update Posted on February 8: Had to add this cautionary tale – “Man Killed by His Own Cock” (my headline)

Update Posted on March 17: Oscar Barajas, who recently wrote a post about his father’s disappointing cock, forwarded this link to “La Muerte de un Gallero.”

Update on May 22, 2011: Bobby Jones calm defense in Texas Monthly of his livelihood, breeding game birds, seems blood-chilling to me. “Harvesting” is the professionals’ word for cockfighting:

…what goes on at harvesting facilities is no different from what you see at a golf course, the rodeo circuit, or a bass tournament. It’s a gentleman’s wager, like betting on a football game.

As part of his explanation of legitimacy, he claims that gaffs for cockfighting were brought over on the Mayflower. But, his best point is:

No, what I’d like to see is a law that gives rural counties the power to decide what they want, instead of being told what to do by people in cities. Why are people in areas like Houston and Dallas, where there’s practically no morality, able to dictate what we do in rural areas, when they know nothing about it?

Poor guy:

Politics often gets in the way of my livelihood.