Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Toughest Horse Trader Wore a Sunbonnet

Sally Scull learned early that frontier life demanded toughness of its women. American Indians in 19th century Texas used the tactics they knew, violence and fear, to drive out the white man stealing their land. Only young Sally and her mother Rachel were home when Indians attacked their cabin. Mother and daughter at first seemed safe behind the boarded door. Then one brave tried to lift the door from its hinges by sticking his foot in the gap beneath. With one swing of an axe, Rachel separated protruding toes from foot. As another brave tried entering through the chimney, Rachel thrust burning down pillows into the fireplace, sealing off entry with smoke and fire, the brave hastily escaping back out the top Frustrated, singed, and dismembered, the Indian braves quickly departed.

The frontier was no less harsh when Sally reached adulthood. The grit and perseverance acquired from her mother served Sally well. Surviving a succession of five husbands, Sally showed Texas that this 125 pound woman could remain independent even in a dangerous world.

Sally and third husband John Doyle began the livestock trade for which Sally is remembered. After Doyle’s death, Sally continued to trade horses and cattle across the most threatening and lawless regions of Texas. Accompanied by only three Mexican-American vaqueros and the two six-shooters on her hips, she remained fearless as she moved livestock from town to town.

Rumors persisted that Sally’s vaqueros stole the horses they sold. She did buy livestock from Indians, and it’s likely that some were indeed stolen. But no one could be certain because Sally would never allow her livestock to be inspected.

Six ranchers once blocked a trail where Sally was herding horses to market. They complained that some of theirs had gone missing, and wanted to look through her herd. Astride her horse with hands resting on both pistols, Sally quickly shot back:

“Get around those horses. You don’t cut my herds”

Sally’s steely gaze and her two revolvers convinced the ranchers their horses weren’t so important, after all. They parted to the sides of the trail, and Sally in sunbonnet and chaps drove her herd on by.

Though hardened by the harshness of the life she chose, Sally Scull found time for merriment. South Texas men enjoyed her company as she drank, played cards, and danced the fandango, delighting them till late in the night. Their women, no doubt jealous and suspicious, claimed an ulterior motive: while Sally partied with their men, they said, her vaqueros and her Indian suppliers were stealing the unprotected livestock.

Sally Scull was the product of her environment. The dangers of 19th century Texas required toughness and cunning, and this small but determined woman delivered both for over fifty years.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Sundance Walk on the Wild Side

We weren’t aware our department’s awards dinner in Fort Worth coincided with the nearby Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at Sundance Square. Circumstances caused me to arrive an hour earlier than everyone else. So I killed time by strolling around the large square, reading the menus at restaurants, peering into store windows, picking up a coffee somewhere, and just looking unoccupied. The friendliness of fellow pedestrians surprised me, but I made an effort to smile back to even those looks that seemed to linger just a little too long.

Then I realized it was only the males who were smiling at me. That puzzled me, until I saw the signs about the film festival, Now it made sense. While I was checking out the retail scene, they were checking me out. That was unnerving, but actually a bit flattering.

I’m straight as an arrow, and I had no intention of pursuing any attention I received. But it does help one’s ego to know that someone finds you attractive. Not sure why gay men would, though. I buy my clothes from the clearance rack at Kohl’s. I’ve never had a manicure. My haircuts are basic Fantastic Sam’s. Do you think I was being viewed as a project?

In any case, I walked into our dinner that night with a little extra bounce. After a couple of drinks, I decided the whole department should know why I was feeling good. Naturally. I’ve been teased a bit since then about my Sundance Square ego stroll.

My advice is this: if you need positive reinforcement about your looks, don’t worry about where it comes from. But be a little cautious about sharing the details with coworkers.

Note to Betti ...

No need to bring up the drag incident from our college days. Please remember that:

- I was drunk;
- It was just a joke;
- The Willson sisters could always talk me into anything;
- That my act was able to fool Joe Bonesio and your brother, Bill, doesn’t indicate anything about suppressed desires, OK?

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Streakers' Tails

Sonny Hennegan’s nude two minute romp across the student union shocked the city of Lake Charles and the campus of McNeese State in the spring of 1974. Streaking was a new college fad in far off California and Minnesota. But how could such deviant behavior have reached conservative Louisiana so quickly? When Sonny’s front page backside cracked a wicked smile to readers of the next student newspaper, university officials could hardly contain themselves. Streaking was an intolerable offense, they announced.

Within two days, a dozen defiant exhibitionists had followed Sonny’s lead, to the delight of the student body. The stage was set for large scale confrontation with authority.

On a warm Thursday night, as hundreds of college women returned to their dormitory, the assault on propriety was unleashed by the uncovered. At two to three minute intervals, the mostly male streakers dashed across the dormitory parking lot, turned left at the bayou footbridge, and disappeared into the darkness. A huge crowd gathered, mostly the female dorm residents in pajamas and gowns.

Campus police were on the scene in minutes. The streaking has ended, their bullhorn bellowed, and everyone must return to dorm rooms.

Just when it appeared the show was over, student body presidential candidate Joe Bonesio arrived. Joe never missed an opportunity to further political ambitions, and he quickly seized control. Pulling aside the police, Bullshit Joe somehow convinced them the offenses could be overlooked. Turning to the crowd, he announced the compromise he had gained. If the women would climb down from ledges and awnings, the police would find another crisis that demanded attention far across campus. Following wild cheers from the lusty crowd, Joe then offered free beer that had mysteriously been iced down in the back of his car.

As police cars faded from view, the streakers returned. For a solid hour, the women of McNeese enjoyed beers and rears, with rock music booming from the custom stereo of Joe’s Toyota.

In the election the next month, Joe Bonesio received overwhelming support from McNeese’s on campus women. Sonny Hennegan is rightly remembered as the most famous streaker in south Louisiana history. But for one night in April, the hero was Joe Bonesio, the man who talked off the police and brought back the butts.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Bullets of a Liberated Woman

Sofie Herzog arrived at the frontier town of Brazosport, Texas, in 1893, and gave the locals much to talk about. In the first place, she was a physician – a FEMALE doctor. And she rode astride her horse, wearing a scandalous split skirt. If that were not enough, this outrageously liberated woman had the audacity to cut her hair short and wear a man's hat.

Doctor Sofie, as the citizens came to call her, appeared at first the opposite of the 19th century woman, but she was in other ways typical of her era. Like most American women, she was a devoted mother, raising seven children to adulthood. She was a loving wife until her husband died in 1893.

Seeking a change in widowhood, Sofie boldly abandoned comforts of New York City, and moved to a new life in the frontier West. She faced an uphill battle to gain confidence of the Texans she wished to treat. Brazosport was a rough town, and a female doctor just seemed out of place. But Doctor Sofie quickly won them over with her ability to heal.Many patients were victims of brawls and shootouts. Sofie's skillful removal of bullets gained her fame. Sofie had a necklace crafted that was sure to generate publicity. Twenty four bullets she had removed from men were linked with gold wire. Sofie wore it proudly, and the amusing tale of her necklace spread throughout Texas.

The St. Louis and Mexico railroad was being built through Texas, and Sofie's work increased. Construction accidents were common. A railway handcar driver often raced to the scene carrying Sofie, her dress billowing in the wind, her medical bag clutched at her side.Sofie applied to be chief surgeon of the railroad. Already doing the work, she wanted the full pay that was rightfully hers. Local railroaders hired her quickly. Railroad executives back in New York then discovered, to their chauvinistic horror, that Dr. Herzog was a woman. When they asked her to resign, Sofie's answer was simple:

"No, thank you. I'll keep this job until I fail to provide service."

Dr. Sofie Herzog remained the railroad's chief surgeon for thirty years. The brave and brash doctor died in 1925. Photos and belongings of Dr. Sofie can be viewed at a small museum in Brazosport. But visitors will not see her necklace of bullets. As specified in her will, the necklace was placed in her coffin, where it has remained ever since.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Troop welcome at DFW Airport

Over 150 U.S. soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan arrive each day at DFW airport. These soldiers are just beginning their two week R&R, a well-deserved rest after six months in war zones. As they emerge from international customs, on their way to family or to connecting flights home, the soldiers are greeted by hundreds of cheering and thankful Americans. VFW members shake every soldier's hand, cub scout packs hold hand-painted signs, church groups wave flags, and nearly everyone in the building sheds tears. This is the soldiers' first glimpse of home, and it's a moment they will surely never forget.

I've welcomed troops at least twenty times over the past two years. I get choked up at the scenes I witness with each arrival. A private from Kansas leans on me as she breaks down and sobs, totally overwhelmed by the emotional release of wartime stress. Young mothers hold out to fathers the tiny babies born while they served their nation halfway around the world. Older mothers scream and cry as their uniformed sons emerge tall and erect at the door of the walkway.

It is difficult to put into words the pure joy this simple welcoming act has brought to soldiers and civilians alike. For a brief thirty minutes every day, all come together in rejoicing the return of our heroes.