Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

 If you grew up in my era and dreamed of being a cowboy, you may have wanted to be a Texas Ranger. The Texas Rangers were the baddest of the best law officers in the world. With a star badge cut from a Mexican coin as his calling card, one ranger on a horse with two pistols blazing and a repeating rifle at his side could take on a whole gang of bad guys and win hands down. They never backed down and always got their man.

The Texas Rangers were the stuff of wild west legends. While in real life all the stories may not be exactly true, these men were heroes to the pioneering families of their times. They did their best to keep the peace in Texas then, as they still do today.

Visiting the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum is a must when you visit the Waco area. Whether you are interested in learning about frontier history, are a gun aficionado, or like western art and film memorabilia, you will find something fascinating at this museum. The “Larger than Life” law officers are individually displayed with stories, portraits and the elegantly engraved guns they possessed.

The rangers were known for introducing advanced weaponry into the Texas frontier.  In 1844, Captain John Coffee Hays learned that the Texas Navy had 5 shot revolving pistols available.  He obtained them for his Texas Ranger Company and the multi-shot pistols gave the Rangers a great advantage in their gun battles with the outlaws they tracked.

A little known fact about the Rangers is their involvement in surveying the Texas settlement. Their knowledge of the terrain and ability to defend themselves made them excellent candidates for this task and many Rangers supplemented their income by working as land surveyors.  Since Rangers were sometimes paid in land rather than cash, this also gave them the opportunity to identify the choice properties as their reward for protecting the citizens of Texas.

One of our favorite sections of the Museum was the popular culture area. Here we viewed many Lone Ranger collectibles, “Walker, Texas Ranger” memorabilia, movie posters about Texas Rangers as well as books about these heroes. We also enjoyed the collection of western art currently on display and the portraits of some of the earliest rangers. The artist masterfully captured in these portraits not only the man but one or more significant events in his life as a ranger.

As you leave the museum, you can’t help being proud of these Texans. Today, the men and women of the Texas Rangers are still the elite of Texas law enforcement. The stories of bravery and accomplishments still live on. Knowing they are still protecting us today just like they did in yesteryear is a comforting thought as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dosey Doe – Music Café


On the outskirts of The Woodlands north of Houston one Friday evening, Suzanne and I had the chance to check out The Dosey Doe Music Café. The idea of listening to some good old Texas country music while eating a down home dinner sounded appealing. The café was just what we thought it would be – rustic and friendly. The staff of the café was courteous and helpful in every sense. The mismatched tables and chairs and country themed décor on the walls were to be expected, but the old wooden doors positioned on the ceiling were not. What we didn’t know until later, as explained by the announcer, was that the doors were positioned to create the best possible acoustics for this building. They were right on!

While waiting for our performer to grace the stage, we concentrated on the food and drink. Ordering up an appetizer of chicken-fried steak pieces with cream gravy and Shiner Bock beer was our starter. Suzanne opted for a Black Angus burger while I tried the cashew chicken salad sandwich. Both were excellent. Good food and great conversation made time fly as we waited for the show to begin.

Soon, the object of our quest arrived onstage, Gary P. Nunn. Gary is a Texas Hall of Fame Country Western Singer/Songwriter who has been around the Texas music scene since the early 70’s. He has played with the likes of Willie Nelson, Michael Murphey and Jerry Jeff Walker and wrote songs for Roseanne Cash, David Allan Coe, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Gary’s iconic “London Sick Blues” performed by Jerry Jeff Walker at the beginning of PBS’s “Austin City Limits” is adored around the world.

The intimate stage setting was fantastic! It was like having Gary P. Nunn playing in your living room. Gary played for about an hour and a half without a break. He mixed the old with new songs off his latest album “Taking Texas to the Country”. Our favorite songs include “My Way or the Highway”, “Dreamer”, Feels like Texas”, “Adios Amigo”, and of course “Taking Texas to the Country”.

If you enjoy a close encounter with your favorite artist or searching for new talent to check out, Dosey Doe Music Café should be on your radar. Give them a look-see and let Suzanne and I know if you agree. Good food, good music and good beer are good reasons to see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Ghost of Bragg Road - Saratoga Lights

Deep in the Big Thicket area of East Texas lurks a phenomenon that defies explanation. Bragg Road, near the small town of Saratoga, has been given the name “Ghost Road” by the many people who  claim to have seen orbs of light floating in the darkness as they drove down this lonely wooded road. Suzanne and I thought it would be fun to check out this phenomenon for ourselves so we drove on over to Saratoga.

If there was ever a place I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, Saratoga is it. The forest in the area is so thick and dense with underbrush, I can understand why they call this part of East Texas the Big Thicket! Saratoga does have a little notoriety. Saratoga was named for a famous resort at Saratoga Springs, New York after hopes that a local sulfur laced spring would entice visitors to come for medicinal purposes. Saratoga also boasts that some of the first oil wells in the state were drilled there. Country western music fans may also remember that Saratoga is the birthplace of the legendary George Jones.

In our quest to understand the Bragg Road Lights, as the locals call it, we decided to drive the approximately 8 mile stretch of road first in daylight to get a sense of the lay of the land. The unpaved road was a narrow graded gravel/dirt road surrounded by dense foliage with occasional standing water along the edge of the road. Even during the day the thick forest blocked out the sun in some areas. Along the way, there are signs giving information about the area and the ghost lights. Sadly, vandals have desecrated these signs to the point that they are difficult to read.

With the lay of the land in our rearview mirror, we waited with anticipation for the night sky to appear. Suzanne and I talked about ghosts and other scary things that go bump in the night. One of the stories associated with the Ghost of Bragg Road is that a railroad worker was decapitated in a train wreck back when the road was originally a railway. The ghost would come out and search for his lost head. Another story has a husband looking for his bride after she was murdered at the Bragg Hotel once located at the end of the road. Who knows the true story of the Ghost of Bragg Road? What we did know was that our eyes would be focused on any lights we see in the darkness!

The time came for our drive. It was dark and eerie. We drove a bit and turned our main lights off. Creeping along the road slowly produced no indication of the Ghost Lights. We were expecting the Ghost to jump out in front of us but I guess he decided to sleep in this night. While we were disappointed that we did not see the Bragg Road Ghost, we had fun thinking and talking about this ghost and other ghost stories we had read about as we headed home. One thing is for sure. It can get pitch black out in the Piney Woods at night as you see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

First College in Texas - Old Baylor Park

Summer is winding down and families are getting ready to send their kids back to school.  The senior class of 2014 is nervously preparing to leave home for college for the first time.  The stores are packed with school supplies and college dorm gear reminds us of our first encounter with college life.  Today, there are dozens of colleges and universities in Texas, but on a trip up highway US 290 from Houston, we found the site of the first established institution of higher learning in Texas at the Old Baylor Park in Independence, Texas.  The park is a short scenic drive off the main highway, and as a former Baylor Bear, I was eager to see the beginnings of my alma mater!

Baylor University was founded in 1845 with just 24 students.  Initially the college was co-educational, but about 5 years after the college was established, the men were moved to a new facility on Windmill Hill and the original site became the Baylor Female College.  Years later, the Baylor Female College was moved to the town of Belton and became Mary Hardin-Baylor while the men’s college moved to Waco and became the Baylor University of today.

The park is small but picturesque.  Remnants of the old kitchen building, water well and the stone columns of the main building are all that remains today. We first visited the park as part of research for Al’s book and the park was deserted that day.  Looking at the setting sun beaming through the crumbling stone columns, I felt an almost eerie stillness as I gazed at the loneliness of these hallowed grounds.  I could imagine a different setting; a group of young women in their long dresses and high topped shoes, sitting with ladylike crossed ankles in the classroom eagerly listening to the teacher’s lecture, or perhaps daydreaming about the gentlemen at the men’s college just over on the next hill.  This scenario was a far cry from the panty raids (known as the “freshman runs”) and mixers of my first few days at Baylor!

While the history behind the park is interesting in itself, Old Baylor Park is also a great place to experience the Texas bluebonnets which typically bloom from mid-March through mid-April.  There are several fields that are covered in these majestic Texas flowers and the park is packed with parents and grandparents posing young children in their Easter best for that perfect bluebonnet shot.   So whether you are interested in Texas history, photographing bluebonnets, or just looking for a quiet place to picnic, I recommend that you take the time to detour off the main highway a bit to visit the Old Baylor Park and see more of Texas Thru My Back Door.