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Chapter 33: Texas and Texans.

A Texan is a mounted man; a knight, who rides and carries arms. The air is hot, and swells in mortal veins. Under Sam Houston, there was a Texan boast that every White settler in the land had killed a Mexican and scalped a Redskin. Later on, the saying of the country ran that every White man owned a mustang and a slave. The slave being gone, the sense of lordship takes another shape. Now, the legend runs, that every Texan owns a horse, a dog, and a gun; a horse that never slackens speed, a dog that never drops his scent, a gun that never misses fire.

Like his Red neighbour, the Kickapoo, a Texan is a hunter; but, unlike his neighbour, the Kickapoo, a Texan never hunts. At every ranch we find a mustang hitched to a rail; on every track we meet [326] armed and mounted men; yet nowhere have we seen much evidence of devotion to the chase. Wild game abounds. On every side, except the side-board, we see elk and antelope, snipe and quail, leveret and prairie-fowl. Nature has done her part, and done it well; but man has not found time, as yet, to use her gifts. The fight for life is still too hard for men to ask for anything more dainty than campaigning fare.

“ Game!” cries a comrade in the dining-room; “guess the only game we Texans care about is poker.” Dine where you may-at prairie ranch, at roadside inn, at railway restaurant — the beef is all leather, the bacon all fat; and when you ask for another dish, you are served with more beef all leather, and more bacon all fat. From Denison to Hearne, from Hearne to Galveston, the plains of Texan are dotted with cattle. Steers browse on every knoll, heifers make pastorals at every pool. “ Here now,” you whisper to yourself, “ is a country of wholesome food-fresh meat, pure milk, new butter, native cheese; here, after courses of jerked antelope and alkaline water, we shall have a chance of growing strong on simple meat and wholesome [327] drink.” Sore is your surprise on asking the Texans for this simple meat and wholesome drink.

A cut of beef is laid before you. Beef! What kind of beef? “ Is not this buffalo steak?”

“ No, Sir,” explains your host, “ this beef is cow meat, or it may be bull meat. If it were only fresh it would be good enough.”

“Why is it not fresh?”

“You see it has to come a long way, and must first be dried and packed. We have to fetch our beef from St. Louis, seven or eight hundred miles by car, seventeen or eighteen hundred miles by boat. We have no time to grow our own food. Texas is a grazing country; in the future she may supply America with beef and butter; but she is still dependent on the North for what she eats and drinks.”

You ask for milk — a glass of fresh, cold milk. Some warm and greasy stuff is poured into your cup: “ This is the only milk we have.” It is New England milk, prepared in cans, and warranted to keep in any climate. If you ask for butter, you get a mixture of grease and brine.

Living in a wild country, with Comanches on [328] the north and Kickapoos on the south, the Texans have not yet acquired that solid hold of the soil which lends a platform to domestic arts. A chain of military posts runs through the land, from Fort Richardson, Fort Griffin, and Fort Worth, in the upper counties, to Fort Concho, Fort Ewell, and Fort Clarke, in the lower counties. Every season, some portions of the State are overrun by savages from Mexico; not such gentle savages as those who stream into Shefelah and Sharon, eating the grapes, drinking the water, and fighting the peasantry, but monsters in human shape, who steal into the settled parts in search of cows and ponies, scalps and girls. There are no milking-maids and dairy-maids in Texas. If the farmers had such girls they would not dare to send them out into the cattle-runs. The Kickapoos would whisk them off into Mexico. Men with rifles and revolvers have enough to do if they would mind their cows and keep their scalps.

A settler here and there has introduced domestic arts, but only for his family's use. The mass of settlers keep their pails and churns down East. They find dried meat from Illinois, canned milk from Vermont, and salt butter from Ontario cheaper than they can [329] make them on the spot. Some farmers lay the blame on climate, soil, and water, as unfavourable to the dairy trade.

“A fine country, Sir, but wild,” says a stockraiser, with whom we swap drinks at a roadside bar ; “everything is wild. You can only keep a cow tame for a year or so. All herds go back on nature. I brought some short-horns out from Essex; in three lives they have all gone back to long-horns.”

A Texan builds no cattle-sheds. Once he has turned his herds into the grazing lands, he lets them run wild, and stay out all the year. Who knows what happens with such herds?

If left alone all animals go wild; a steer but some degrees faster than a lad. The son of a White man who had been stolen as a child by Kickapoos and mated in their tribe has been found as savage as an ordinary Kickapoo.

Some persons blame the Negroes as the evil demons of this country, charging them with a propensity to acts of violence, a disposition to abuse whatever favour they obtain, and an extreme antipathy to family order and domestic arts. Some grains of truth there are in what these critics urge. [330] The Negro, as he lives in Texas, is a savage, but without the virtues of a Cherokee. Unbroken to the yoke, he hardly understands the meaning of a moral code, a social compact, or a family law. To him domestic arts are figments of the brain, and family order is a vision in the clouds. In moral sense he rises no higher than a Kickapoo; in personal rectitude he sinks below the Kickapoo.

In Texas, three races are in contact and conflict; each race against the other two races; Red men against White and Black; Black men against Red and White; White men against Black and Red. The calendar of crime in Texas is a fearful record, and the darkest portion of that record is the list of Negro crime.

At every ranch we hear of Negro frays and fights, beginning for the greater part in drink, and ending for the greater part in bloodshed. Since the Negro became a citizen he has acquired the faculty of buying whisky and getting drunk, a gift of liberty denied to his Red brother; and one more precious in his sight than that of voting for a village justice or even for a member of Congress.

White people, as a rule, pay no attention to these Negro quarrels, White people caring no more [331] whether a Black fellow kills his comrade than they care whether a Redskin scalps his neighbour. We learn, on good authority, that there were three thousand murders in Texas last year, and that nearly all these murders were committed by Negroes on their brother blacks. A few were Indian outrages, committed by the Kickapoos and Kiowas who swarm across the border out of Mexico in search of cows and girls; but these few Indian murders were not enough in number to affect the main results. But though the White men stand aloof, in pity and contempt, as they might stand apart when street-dogs or wild bulls are fighting, such offences help to keep Texas a savage country, and to stop the growth of villages on plains, which at the best are only one remove from desert wastes.

But when a Black man kills a White man, blood is certain to be shed; for neither race has yet acquired much confidence in the courts of law. In a society so young as that of Texas, courts of law are swayed by every storm of public passion, and the judges, chosen by a popular vote, feel bound to rule as the majority dictates. Hence verdicts are the sport of party victories. An Asiatic Greek believes he has some chance of getting justice from [332] a Turk; a Kabyle in Algeria thinks he has some chance of getting justice from a Gaul; a Tartar in Kazan imagines he has some chance of getting justice from a Muscovite; but a Negro in Texas never dreams of getting justice from a Conservative judge, and a White man in Texas never leaves the duty of revenge to a Republican judge. In case of a collision, there is not much difference in the mode of settling matters. Whether fair or dusky, men whose friends have been injured by the other party are ready to enact the parts of sheriffs, jurors, judges, and hangmen, on the shortest notice.

Take the latest case, as an example. On Sunday last, Zete Fly, a stalwart Negro, trudging on the road near Moulton, a village in Gonzales County, passed a White boy, named Dick Dixon, who was hardly fourteen years of age. Some words arose. Fly whipt out his pistol, fired at the lad, tearing his arm from elbow to shoulder, and left him bleeding in the road. Tom Dixon, elder brother of the boy, ran after Zete, and finding him shut up in his shanty, challenged him to come out and fight. Instead of coming out to fight Zete barred and logged his door.

“Come out!” cried Tom. Zete skulked behind [333] his logs and bars. Then Tom began to beat the door and threaten to smash the planks. Zete slid his bar, opened his door, and fired his pistol. Tom fell dead.

Four or five settlers, hearing the shot, came up from Moulton, and were soon aware how matters stood. Brief parley led to stern resolve. Dead or alive Zete must be arrested on the spot and carried to Sheriff De Witt, in Gonzales, the county town, together with the witnesses of his guilt.

They summoned Zete to yield himself a prisoner; he defied them to come in and take him. To attack a desperate fellow was to risk a second life, and perhaps a third, and no one cared, in such ignoble quarrels, to be shot. The settlers thought of fire. It is an easy thing to burn a fellow in a log cabin, and Zete himself caved in as soon as he perceived their drift.

At four in the afternoon, as the sun was setting, two settlers started with the prisoner for Gonzales. The night was closing in, when they were met by seven or eight mounted men, who called a halt. The darkness hid the features of these persons, but their purpose was apparent in their acts. They took the [334] murderer from his escort, strapped his legs under his horse, and placing him in their centre, struck into the open Plains.

Having lost their man, and thinking the affair over and their duty done, the two settlers jogged along the road. Nobody at Gonzales seemed to care for Zete. The night was Sunday, and the people were at evening service. What was there to say? Zete had committed murder, and a murderer's doom is death. If he were hanged by the rescuers substantial justice would be done. So thinking, the citizens in Gonzales drank their whisky and went to bed, giving the criminal and his captors no further thought.

Next day intelligence reached Sheriff De Witt that Zete, though sorely wounded, was still alive. A second party had appeared. A fight had taken place, another rescue had been made, and Zete, exalted in Negro eyes by his double crime, was lying at a ranch on the Plains, guarded by forty well-armed blacks.

This tale was true. When the White captors, having no confidence in public justice, were about to hang the murderer, a much stronger Black party, having no confidence in public justice, were gathering to save him from the rope. These parties met. [335] Forty against seven are long odds. The seven fell back, and Zete, though injured by a gunshot, was released and carried off by lhis Negro partisans.

On Tuesday morning Sheriff De Witt rode out with half Gonzales at his side. As they approached the ranch where Zete was lying, they looked and listened for sign and sound-none came; the ranch was silent as a tomb. On peering through the door, De Witt perceived two corpses, and on touching the bodies he found they were still warm. One corpse was that of Zete Fly; the other that of an unknown Negro. Both bodies were riddled with shots, so were the wall and door. A short and bloody fight had evidently taken place, but who the combatants were no sign remained to tell. The work of death was done — the ministers of doom were gone.

Later in the day, some Negroes who had aided in the fight and rescue came before De Witt and told him that a party of White men had come that morning to the ranch and summoned the Negroes to surrender Zete Fly. The party being too strong for the Negroes to fight, many of them ran away; but one man, braver than his crew, had raised his gun, and standing in front of Zete, had challenged his enemies to come on. A White volley struck them dead.

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