Another Misc. Post

When William Longworth told the story of Silver Creek to J. Frank Dobie it was in a San Antonio restaurant.  It must have been a Mexican restaurant, as Longworth had a plate of enchiladas.  According to Dobie, Longworth dipped his fork in the enchilada sauce and sketched out the mine site on the table cloth.  That probably happened around 1927.

Growing up I used to order enchiladas whenever we went to the local Mexican cafe in our small town in south-east New Mexico.  It was different from what passes for Mexican restaurants these days.   There were saltine crackers, not fried tortilla chips, on the table.  There were two coffee cups of salsa on each table, the red sauce was hot, and the green sauce carried a warning from the surgeon general. There were no fajitas.   People mainly ordered tacos (crispy shells with beef) or the enchiladas.  Those enchiladas something else.  They were not rolled, rather they were flat.  There were three corn tortillas,  with a little cheese between each tortilla, the whole assembly smothered in from-scratch chili sauce, more cheese on top, and (optionally) a little bit of ground beef on top.  The whole thing was baked in an oven and when the waiter said “hot plate” he really meant it.  I would cut up the enchilada with my fork into wedges.  The sauce was what made it.  An option was to top the enchilada with a fried egg, which some people liked.  In those days there were no rice or beans on the side, just the enchilada.

Mexican cuisine is one of the most misunderstood, and abused, cuisines in the world. First, there is no single Mexican cuisine.  What was in the American south-west was mainly what was in northern Mexico, mainly the state of Sonora.  The Hispanics on the north side cooked the same sorts of foods people on the south side cooked, but surely did evolve along in their own way as well.  There was really no issue of what was authentic or not.

San Antonio was an epicenter of Mexican food in the early 20th century.  Anglos and Hispanics rubbed shoulders at the tables of the”chili queens,” who nightly served up spicy foods in make-shift diners.  It may have been at one of those tables, perhaps in a tent, where Dobie and Longwroth met, or it could have been in one of the very early Mexican restaurants.

The food was too spicy for some.  Proper enchilada sauce is almost pure chili pulp.  The best sauce is made of dried chilis that are soaked in hot water.  The reconstituted pulp is scraped out of the skins, and that is pretty much that.  Maybe a few spices added, maybe some broth if it is too thick.  It is lovely stuff, but too much for some people.  So an abomination called chili gravy was born.  A brown flour roux (gravy) that has some chili powder added.  Really gross stuff.

With the abominable chili gravy, the sauce could no longer be the main attraction, so filling had be added.  Beef, chicken, or a whole lot of cheese.  To better hold the fillings the tortillas were rolled around the filling. But, in some rare restaurants the enchiladas with the original flat style, with incredible scratch-made sauce with out any flour, can still be had.

Anyway, here is a recipe as close I can come to what the Mexican Cafe served decades ago.  May not be Kennedy* approved, but it is the real-deal.  I would wager it is close to what William Longworth had when he talked to Dobie.

Again, a proper home made sauce consists of the pulp of New Mexico chilis.  Dried chilis have their stems cut off, they are placed in boiling water for a time and then the re-hydrated pulp is scraped off.  Proper enchilada sauce is mostly chili pulp that has gone through a blender.  It is not tomato based, and may not have any tomato in it at all.  When I have made it before I would only add tomato sauce if the chili pulp was too hot to handle.  Great stuff, but time-consuming.  It is also iffy if one does not have a source of consistent chili pods.  One batch will be hotter than the surface of the sun and the next will be mild as ketchup.  Old El Paso brand red enchilada sauce from the grocery store is not that bad. There are also some canned sauces from New Mexico restaurants that can be ordered on-line. This recipe is for one serving, but it can be scaled up easily.

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place an oven-safe dinner plate in the oven.
  • Heat a skillet on the stove, preferably cast iron, on medium heat.    Pour a little peanut oil (high smoke point) into the pan and put a cast iron bacon press on the pan to pre-heat it. After it heats up, cook 3 corn tortillas, one at a time, between the pan and the press until they are slightly firm (cook on both sides).  Traditionally, they would be immersed in hot oil, but this method uses less oil. Put the tortillas on paper towels.  3 tortillas are just right, 4 is too many, 2 is not enough.
  • In a stainless steel, or in a non-stick, frying pan heat up the enchilada sauce.
  • Grate at a cup or two of colby-jack cheese.
  • Take the hot plate out of the oven.  Put a little of the grated cheese in the middle of it.
  • With tongs dip each tortilla into the sauce in the frying pan, put it on the plate, and put some cheese on top of it.  Repeat two more times, but before putting the cheese on the top tortilla, pour out most or all of the left over sauce on top of the stack.  Some people put finely diced onion in with the cheese, but personally not my thing.
  • Put the plate in the oven until the cheese melts completely.
  • Meat enchiladas can be had by frying some ground meat.  Cook it (over cook it) and chop / smash it up into small pieces.  Put it on top of the enchilada, on top of the last layer of cheese, before putting the enchilada in the oven.
  • Traditionally, finely chopped raw onion is served on top of the enchilada when it comes out of the oven.
  • It is traditional to offer guests the option of a fried egg on top (put the fried egg on top after the enchilada comes out of the oven).  Personally, not my thing, but some people love it.

*Kennedy was a New York Times food critic who went to Mexico City to discover that the food there was not at all like the Mexican food in the American south west (or northern Mexico, either).  Thus she could sneer at all the yahoos in America who liked their tacos and enchiladas.  If a food critic from Mexico City wanted to see what the fuss about barbecue was all about so they went to New York City, they would soon conclude that anyone making Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, or Tennessee style barbecue were phonies, as none of that was at all like what was served in New York.  The food critic may have speculated that the real American peasant food was the hot dog, and obviously the so-called barbecue was a corruption of the New York hot dog.

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Threw away a AM/FM/CD stereo today.  Had it for about 5 years.  Used it maybe once a week.  Made in China.  It was by Crosby.  Looked at how it was put together, and it was obvious that there was no intention of it ever being repaired.

5 years seems to be a long life for anything made in China.  Wonder if anyone has ever considered the environmental impact of making China the world’s manufacturer?  I have electronics not made in China, that run and run.  A old Montgomery-Wards VCR made in Malaysia, bought in 1996, that still works.  A record player made in Japan in the early 1990’s, that still works just fine.

The nasty stuff going to landfills (circuit boards, and all manner of heavy metals and plastics), the fuel used and the pollution made shipping stuff across the ocean, and the pollution by the factory that makes the stuff–am I the only one that sees something wrong with so much attention placed on the point-of-use efficiency of a given item, but not a care in the world how often that item has to be replaced and how many of them end up landfilled?  I would rather pay  more for something that lasted longer, and could be repaired when it did fail.

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Fun link for the day, the fashion show from True Stories.  About as practical as any other fashion show, but more fun.  The song sung in the background is a little haunting if one listens to the words.  As sung by this actress, the song is not available for purchase, a pity.

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Found a channel on youTube of a guy who recreates a lot of the day to day life of the 1700’s here.

 

The San Saba Mission, Lost and Found

The San Saba presidio (at Menard, TX) is oftentimes mistaken for the San Saba mission. They are separate compounds, more than a mile apart. When the mission was established in 1756 the missionaries wanted the mission to be a good distance away from the fort (the presidio).  One might ask how a presidio with 100 Spanish troops was to protect a mission if it was not even in sight of the mission.  The answer is not very well.  The reason for the distance had to do with a disastrous experience with a Texas mission a few years earlier where the  presidio captain was anything but a good example for the newly Christianized Indians.  In fact the captain was excommunicated by the mission priest, then the captain had the priest murdered.  The mission Indians had enough and melted away.  A previously successful mission failed.

With this new mission the presidio was placed out of sight, on the other side (the north side) of the San Saba River.  After various northern tribes (mainly the Comanche) destroyed the mission in 1857 the presidio, that survived the attack, was rebuilt into a stone fortress.  It had no mission to protect, and instead of moving the command to the east to protect the fledgling Los Almagres mines, it stayed where it was to defy the northern tribes.

The stone fortress was occupied for several years but abandoned in the later 1700’s.  It remained for years, and was then mostly dismantled and used for building materials by the new town of Menardville (that later became Menard).  The large fort took a long time to even partly dismantle and there is no doubt where it was located.  Around 1937 a public work’s project mostly rebuilt it, but it was not rebuilt very well, or according to sketches that exist from the colonial era.  It began to crumble.  Much more recently it has undergone a better restoration and the original outline of the building has been reestablished.

While there was never any doubt as to where the fort was, where was the mission?  It seemed to be a case of everyone knew, everyone lost interest, then no one knew and wished they did.  Several archaeologists had a go at locating it, but without any success.  It was supposed to be one and a half leagues away from the fort, but just how long is a league? It was more a measure of how far one could travel in an hour–in an era of sun dials.  The location was lost, perhaps forever.  The old timers saw traces of it before the turn of the century, but no one thought to ask them before they passed on.

One of the reasons for the renewed interest in the mission was the book The San Saba Mission, that was printed in 1964.  It was printed by a person who has much to do, by what he did not do, with the treasure legend.  It was written by the local newspaper editor, a man named Robert Weddle.

Weddle was interested in Texas history–he more interested in history writing than in newspaper editing.  He wrote the aforementioned book and it put him on the map in Texas academia.  He went on to become a respected writer of Texas history.  He passed on a couple of years ago.  His 1964 book did much to popularize the San Saba mission and presidio.

What he did not want to popularize were the the San Saba treasure legends.  From reading many of his newspapers of that era, he had nothing but scorn and ridicule for the treasure legends.  Part of that could have been altruistic.  People were selling mining stocks and none of it ever paid off.  Every reader he dissuaded from the silver lode lottery was another reader who did not throw their money away.

But part of his disdain for the legends could have been that he was trying, really hard, to become a historian.  A small town newsman talking about Jim Bowie and stacks of silver bars would not be taken seriously.  So, perhaps, that has something to do with his newspaper not reporting on any of the treasure hunting goings-on in Menard in the 1960’s.

He may have, perhaps, realized that he had gone too far later in life.  While in the 1960’s he wrote that “tradition, and nothing else” claimed that Jim Bowie was after silver when he made an expedition to somewhere in the area in 1831, the reality was that Rezin Bowie and Caiaphas Ham both stated in unmistakable terms that they were indeed after a silver mine they thought was in the area.  Weddle, well, basically wrote a lie when he wrote those words.  Perhaps he thought it was a white lie.  Well, in what was probably the last academic paper he authored (co-wrote actually) he wrote about historical myths.  He mentioned the myth of silver mines around Menard, but added something curious in a foot note.  He wrote that when he first arrived in Menard that he found a chunk of slag near the old presidio.  Slag is a by-product of silver smelting.  He sent a sample of the slag off to UTEP.  The report came back that the slag contained silver.  For slag to contain silver the ore that was smelted must have contained even more silver.  Perhaps that foot note was a way to make amends for stretching the truth about Bowie, and for a complete press blackout of the very interesting goings on around Menard decades earlier.

Another newspaper editor is part of the story.  John Warren Hunter.  He was a fascinating individual, the sort that were rarely born after 1900.  He was an uneducated youth, a cowboy, who caught the  attention of a young lady back east.  The young lady resolved to civilize the young man and marry him.  So she did.  He took to learning what his educated wife was teaching very well.  He learned so well that he became a school master.  One school he mastered was in Menardville before the turn of the century.  Then he became a newspaper editor in the nearby town of Mason.  In the very early 1900’s the Texas Rangers were having a reunion in Menardville.  Hunter printed up a little souvenir booklet for them titled The Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba.  The booklet was one part history of the area, one part treasure legend (Hunter held that Los Almagres was a real mine and that it was somewhere around Menardville), and one part biography of interesting early settlers to Menard County.

A couple and a half decades later J. Frank Dobie leaned heavily on the booklet when he wrote the San Saba legend part of Coronado’s Children.  Hunter had spent time in Mexico and could read and write Spanish (during the civil war he refused to join the confederacy and he lived in Mexico for the duration).  While in Monclova he heard tale of silver mines around the San Saba River.  He thought there was a mine, or perhaps mines, in the area, but he did not know just where they were and apparently expended no effort in finding out.

Weddle thought that Hunter’s book was anything but real history.  But years later someone saw something in that little book that probably made Weddle wish that he had read it more closely.  In the early 1990’s a San Antonio architect named Mark Wolf discovered that he was related to one of the soldiers stationed at the presido.  Mark took an interest in the story.  He asked an archaeologist to show him the mission site, where his relative saved many lives during the massacre.  The reply was that no one knew where it was for sure.

Mark developed a strong interest in the history.  He happened upon a yellowed old booklet, The Rise and Fall of The Mission San Saba.  Hunter wrote that the mission site was known to the locals and that artifacts could still be collected there.  It was on the “old Hockensmith place”.  Mark inquired with the county office as to what property had ever been owned by someone named Hockensmith.  There was only one such property–on the south side of the river, a distance from the presidio.  Long story short, that property was the place.  It just so happened that the field had been plowed for alfalfa, and sure enough Mark and some archaeologists he was with that day found one artifact, then another, then another, in the freshly turned soil.  A proper field study held by Texas Tech confirmed beyond a doubt that the mission site, lost when the first generation of Menardville residents passed on, was now found.  It is on private property, but there is a marker nearby.

The irony was that Bob Weddle could have found that site himself, and become a hero to academia, when he was living in Menard and writing his book about that mission in the early 1960’s.  It goes to show that one should never be too proud to read even tacky little booklets when researching history.

Misc Thoughts

Random things:

In researching the history of colonial history Texas it struck me that there were very few Spaniards that lived in Texas, and it struck me as well at how profound their influence was given their limited numbers.  A random example is the use of cumin in Tex-Mex cooking these days.  America must import tons of the stuff.  But, cumin is a North-African spice.  What’s up with that?  Well, in the early 1700’s the King of Spain decided that Texas needed more settlers so he told some Spaniards, a dozen or so families, living on the Mediterranean Canary Islands to move to Texas, to where San Antonio is now.  The Canary Islanders used a lot of cumin in their cooking, and when they relocated to Texas their took their cumin with them.  And nearly three-hundred years later here we are, tons of cumin imported and used in every Mexican eatery and a lot of kitchens in America.

We are supposed to be horrified at the thought of public figures being black-listed over, what those figures would have said were efforts, or even inclinations, to have better relations with the Russians around sixty years ago.  It was called McCarthyism. Speaking of the American media 39 years ago, Solzhenitsyn remarked: There is no true moral responsibility for distortion or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to the readership or to history? If they have misled public opinion by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, even if they have contributed to mistakes on a state level, do we know of any case of open regret voiced by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No; this would damage sales. A nation may be the worse for such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. It is most likely that he will start writing the exact opposite to his previous statements with renewed aplomb.  He hadn’t seen nothing yet.

Amazon is the darling of the stock market.  But it is a twenty odd year old company with the balance sheet of a start-up.  An astronomical P/E ratio and scarcely any positive cash flow.  Looks to me like a Ponzi-scheme where suckers buying the stock are funding the ongoing operations of the company, because, you know, someday they might actually make money and really be worth something.  When Wal-Mart, Sears, whoever, took over retail they did it with greater efficiency and gained market share and profitability at the same time.  Amazon is gobbling up market-share by pricing the competition out of business.  Those other business have to, you know, actually make money.   Unlike Amazon, that is allowed to party like it is 1999 for as long as it wants.  So what will Amazon do once it dominates?  Either crash and burn when it runs out of suckers to buy a stock with a 1,000 P/E ratio, or else raise prices.  Not a happy ending either way.  Sounds like an antitrust issue to me.

Fun web links:

  • The ax is one of the most ancient and fundamental of tools.  For a pioneer / mountain man / explorer of old, a good ax was one of their most important possessions.  Like a lot of old tools, like saws, files, and drills, there is a lot of knowledge behind their construction, maintenance, and use.  It is fascinating how such tools were refined over time.  There is a good video on them I found the other day here.  I used to live on some acres of partly-wooded land and had a good number of dead trees to clear, a wood lot to take care of, old lumber slash to remove, etc.  Never owned a chainsaw.  A couple of axes and cross-cut saws took care of it all.  Sure, a chain saw is faster, but for occasional use, the time to take it out a chain saw, lubricate it, add the gas/oil, get it primed, get on safety glasses and ear muffs, get it started, and so on, well a medium size tree would already be felled with a good cross-cut saw.  And instead of deafening noise and exhaust fumes, hand tools give good exercise in the fresh air.  A good source of axes, and all sorts of hand tools, is Harry Epstein.   A good source of cross-cut saws is the Cross Cut Saw Company.  A good (and free) handbook on how to sharpen and use them is here.

 

  • For people like me who would rather stay off the interstates while traveling, and those who find strange attractions, and off-the-beaten path things of interest, my new guilty pleasures are the videos of a strange fellow who goes by the name of Adam-the-Woo.  He can be a little goofy, but he has some great videos of the America behind the curtain.  The childhood home of Clyde Barrow, the bed where FDR died, the most confusing house in America, an abandoned iron foundry in Chattanooga, the filming locations of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.  It is all there.

 

  • A blog I check most days is by a guy named Sci-Fi Wright.  I am not that interested in science fiction these days, which is sometimes the topic of the blog, but I find his philosophical observations interesting.

 

  • Just for fun:
    • Speaking of Wrights, found this gem on YouTube: The Appointments of Dennis Jennings.  A short film with Steven Wright (and Mr. Bean!)
    • Conspiracy Theories, the musical. A fun scene from the film True Stories.  The sort of movie people love or just do not get.  Only one way to find out if you get it.
    • Daniel Mitsui, a young artist who works in the style of medieval scribes.  Wow.

 

Well, enough of all that, next entry will be back on the San Saba Treasure.

 

J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children

The book that recorded, and in part formed, the modern legend of the San Saba treasure was J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children.  It was published in 1930.  Google Books has a preview of the San Saba related section, including the Broken Metate story: Coronado’s Children.  Worth reading by anyone with an interest in the story.

Dobie was the premier Texas folklorist of his generation.  He spent time at UT Austin as an English professor.  It took more than skill as a writer to write folklore.  One had to have a ready source of folklore, and Dobie was skilled at finding people who had stories to tell and were willing to tell them.

The Broken Metate story was unique in many ways, and was really the best story of all the San Saba tales.   It had a great back story that reached back into the 1700’s and it stretched all the way to the present: digging was ongoing when the book went to press.  It was also incredibly unique in that the location of the alleged mine was not lost.  The only mystery was how exactly to find the horde of silver bars inside the old mine.  That separated the legend from many other treasure tales and placed it into an exclusive group of tales where the basic treasure site is firmly established.  Oak Island comes to mind.  As per the tale, one knows, as per extremely unique geological features, when one is within about 50 yards of the treasure.  It is those last 50 yards that bedeviled treasure hunters for more than a century.

There is a map in Dobie’s tale and the basic directions down the river and up the creek to get to the cave are correct.  However, Dobie simplified the story from there.  He did not really invent anything out of thin air, but he left out several important details.  It is certain that he knew those details as they were in his notes.  What he included and left out, and what the person who told the tale to Dobie had to say are an interesting glimpse into a folklorist who not only recorded folklore but, in the end, moved the legend along and added to it.  Peoples’ lives were changed because of what Dobie wrote.

Nearly every book written about the San Saba Treasure since 1930 (in regards to The Broken Metate / Silver Creek) merely copied Dobie.  C.K. Eckhardt seemed to take Dobie’s story and turn one sentence of Dobie into three sentences of Eckhardt.  In the legend back-story Dobie wrote that Major Dixon went to a church in Monclova, Mexico to look for records about mines around the San Saba.  Eckhardrt took that sentence, fertilized it, and and came up with Major Dixon visiting the “great cathedral” in Moncolva.  Only, there was no great cathedral in Monclova in that era, none great and none small.  There was no cathedral at all.  And that is a clue–why would records of colonial era mines be stored at an ordinary parish church?

 

Academia and the San Saba Legends

There are only a few recent scholarly treatments of the San Saba Legends or events related to them.  Those being The Archaeology and History of Spanish Colonial Mining Efforts in Central Texas  by Nancy Mayo (Masters Thesis, Texas Tech 1995), and Ruin of ruins: (re)building myth and memory in Menard, TX by David Weir (Masters Thesis, Texas Tech 2004).

Nancy’s paper has to do with the rumors of silver on the San Saba and the mines at Los Amalgres.  It is a long, generally well-researched paper with a good number of archaeological  investigations.  She accepts, uncritically, the Bowie / Tresmanos tale (where Bowie was adopted into a tribe of Apaches to learn the secret of their silver).  And she worked off of the same old translation of the Miranda documents that historians had used since the beginning.  The more recent translations made at the direction of James Stotts were better and would have been of benefit to Nancy.  Otherwise an interesting paper for anyone interested in colonial era mining efforts.

David’s paper is mainly about how the townspeople of of Menard and the Apaches have approached, or created, the legends around Jim Bowie. In 2004 the “deconstruction” movement on campuses was in high gear.  As usual in such papers, more is learned about the biases of the author than of the history in question.  The cultural connection that some Apaches have with the Presidio was interesting, but the author leaves unquestioned how much of the oral history of the Apaches was handed down from their elders and how much, if any, of it was appropriated from books like Dobie’s Coronado’s Children. Instead of asking hard questions about the legend of Bowie living with the Apaches, he had to take it on faith as fact as he could not question recent Apache folklore.  But he could disparage Menard’s connection to Bowie.  In the end, such papers tend to say more about their authors than their subjects.

A few decades earlier Duane Hale, now a history professor at Cisco College, wrote two papers.  For his Masters thesis at Abilene Christian University in 1972 he wrote Evidence of Mining in the Big Country of Texas.  Five years later at Oklahoma State University he wrote Prospecting and Mining on the Texas Frontier.  These papers are not available on-line, and short of finding them in a university library they may be hard to fine.  But, some of the material from those papers made it into a multi-part series of articles that showed up in Treasure magazine in 1991.  Back issues of those magazines are still available if anyone is interested in them.