Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chicago Hot Dogs ... Texas Style

There is really no true substitute for having a “Chicago Style Hot Dog” anywhere else but the city which gave it the name. There are, of course, times, when it seems, you have to settle for the next best thing.

First of all, let’s define what makes a regular hot dog a Chicago Style Hot Dog. It consists of an all beef hot dog, bright green sweet pickle relish (not the stuff most of us find on the grocery shelf), plain yellow mustard, pickles, onions, tomato wedges, sport peppers, and, celery salt on a steamed poppy seed bun. I’m not expert enough to describe the correct order of assembly, but those are the basic ingredients.

Since most of us around the country don’t live in Chicago, or get to visit there all that often, we have to settle for the next best thing, at least with respect to a Chicago hot dog. And, the next best thing down here in Texas, while perhaps a little different than in Chicago, is a great Chicago style dog.

Dog Almighty, located on South Lamar in Austin, is the local Texas purveyor of Chicago style hot dogs. True to the Chicago original, it serves grilled beef hot dogs, with tomatoes, pickles, bright green relish, onions, plain yellow mustard, and celery salt. But, there are a few differences. The bun, rather than being steamed, is toasted, and there are no poppy seeds. And while I don’t miss the poppy seeds all that much, I rather enjoy the toasted bun. While toasted buns are not traditionally a part of Chicago style hot dogs, they are definitely a part of the history of the American hot dog.

If for some really strange reason you are not enamored with Chicago style hot dogs, you have plenty of other choices at Dog Almighty, including veggie and turkey dogs. There are a lot of locally created Texas hot dogs on the menu, and, if none of those suit you, you can order “The Slacker Dog.” If you order this hot dog, you can pretty much create the hot dog of your dreams. You start from scratch with the hot dog itself, and then add one or more of the many available ingredients and condiments Dog Almighty has to offer. I’ve never ordered a “Slacker,” because if I did, I would get it with exactly the same ingredients as the Chicago style hot dog, which, of course, would be pointless.

Eating Chicago style hot dogs on South Lamar in Austin may be a little different than eating one on West Ontario Street, West Grand Avenue, or one of the countless other locations in Chicago, but it’s the next best thing. And, in my opinion, the “Chicago Dog” at Dog Almighty, is an excellent choice for those of us living in and around the Texas Hill Country, who need to enjoy a little bit of Chicago from time to time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sheriff James Henry Franks Of Caldwell County, Texas

James Henry Franks was born in Arkansas in 1876 and moved with his family to Texas in 1888 in a covered wagon. The family settled in Caldwell County, at that time, less than a day’s horseback ride south of Austin. Upon his reaching adulthood, Henry, the name he went by while growing up, became a farmer and a blacksmith. Shortly after the turn of the century, he married Daisy Abbott.

In 1908, Franks was elected Sheriff of Caldwell County, and soon thereafter moved with his wife and young daughter into the bottom floor of the newly built jail in Lockhart, the county seat. Less than 7 years later, he was dead, murdered by a shotgun blast from an unknown gunman.

It was in May of 1915, that he was assassinated in a crime which has never been solved. Before the days of sophisticated forensic science, DNA evidence, and 24 hour news channels, his death quickly became a footnote of history.

Speculation regarding the crime, however, continues until this day. Accounts from a family history of the sheriff suggest both political intrigue and revenge. According to the scant historical record, there was a struggle between the county’s political establishment and popular sentiment over who should be elected sheriff. Popular sentiment in the county won out, and Franks was elected Sheriff of Caldwell County. Unfortunately, as the story goes, the man he beat in the election, one John L. Smith, became bitter, and harassed Franks whenever he could.

On February 19, 1915, Smith walked into the Caldwell County Courthouse in Lockhart where the sheriff’s office was located, and threatened the life of Franks. As Smith left the sheriff’s office, and began walking the various hallways of the courthouse, Franks grabbed his double-barrel shotgun and followed him out. At some point, the two men met, and Smith began firing his pistol at Franks to no avail. It was at this point, apparently, that Franks shot Smith dead. Unfortunately, the violence inside the courthouse that day did not end the matter.

It was in the middle of May of 1915, not even 3 months after Sheriff Franks killed his rival, John Smith, that someone abruptly ended his life. It appears that the sheriff might have been called out to the railroad loading platform in Lockhart on a ruse, and then assassinated once he arrived there. Some claim the killing of Franks was committed by a member of Smith’s family, but, of course, no one really knows. To this day, his violent passing remains a mystery.

What is not a mystery, however, is the fact that both Franks, and his political adversary, John Smith, both lie in the Lockhart Cemetery. Their violent deaths, more likely than not, were caused by a dispute over who should be the Caldwell County Sheriff. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and so much for earthly things like a sheriff’s badge and the power that goes with it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Only Thing Predictable About Texas Weather Is Its Unpredictability

This past year has given the folks living in the Texas Hill Country quite a ride with respect to weather. During 2009, the area experienced a severe drought, 68 days at or above 100 degrees, and some of the lowest water levels on Lake Travis ever. Then, last fall, the rains started, followed by a dusting of snow in December. January of this year, along with a lot of places in the South, brought a couple of nights of unbelievably cold temperatures which turned many of the palm fronds in and around the hill country the color of brown cardboard.

This past Sunday, it was in the 70’s, and yesterday, just a bit cooler. The days were perfect for golfing and boating, and on both days golfers and boaters were out in force. Today, however, the bottom dropped out. It rained early this morning, followed by a little snow, then sleet, and then a complete changeover to all snow for most of the day. While there were no golfers or boaters out today, children around the area, who rarely if ever see measurable snow, were having lots of fun. The falling snow covered flowers, grass, and trees.

The weather in the hill country this past year was unusual, but only because of its extremes. The area usually enjoys a semi-tropical climate with sunny days, hot summers, and mild winters. Precipitation is normally spread evenly throughout the year, with the wettest months being in May and October. What made this past year a little different was the higher than normal numbers of extremely hot days, the lack of rain, the very bitter cold snap, lower than average temperatures during this winter, and measurable snow. And, while this does not happen in most years, it has all happened before, and many times. This is Texas, after all.

The hill country is used to “feast or famine” weather, and it gives rise to the old expression down here, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Since before recorded time, inhabitants of the region have been accustomed to what is now called a “Blue Norther.” In the fall, cold fronts can come in fast, and temperatures can often drop 20 or 40 degrees, or even more, in a matter of minutes.

I’m not big fan of the cold, snow, or winter weather, which is one of the reasons I moved to the hill country after living all my life up North. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the nostalgic novelty of the snow today. Tomorrow it is forecasted to be in the upper 50’s, and later in the week, back into the middle to upper 60’s.

The only thing predictable about Texas weather, I guess, is its unpredictability.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hankering For Some Catfish

I don’t think about eating catfish all that often, but, every month or so, I do get a certain hankering for it. And, if I don’t immediately feed my hunger for the fish, it gnaws at me until I do.

The nagging craving for catfish appears suddenly, and without warning, and when it does, I immediately start thinking about all of the places nearby where I can go to get my fried catfish “fix.” I avoid the chain restaurants at all costs, unless, of course, I’m really desperate. Fortunately, there are quite a few places in the hill country which make a living off the fish, and know how to prepare it correctly.

When the catfish mood hit me this past week, I jumped into the car and headed over to Marble Falls. As I drove over the winding road through the hill country of Texas, I knew that at the end of my journey there would be fried catfish filets with my name on them. My destination, of course, was Ken’s Catfish & BBQ.

The restaurant is a small white concrete block building right on Marble Fall’s main drag. When I arrived, as is usual at the noon hour, the parking lot in front of the place was crowded with oversized pickup trucks. Despite the clutter of trucks outside, I knew that there would be a seat for me inside. There always is, as the locals will gladly seat you at their table if you have no other place to sit.

The kind folk at Ken’s, like nearly everywhere else in the hill country, are friendly and sincerely appreciate your business. They say “thank you” with a special emphasis after you order, and they really mean it. But, once the catfish is delivered to the table, it’s time to say “thank you” back to them.

The thin catfish filets, breaded in cornmeal, were hot and delicious. A choice of sides was available, including fries, beets, slaw, green beans and potato salad. I went with the coleslaw and green beans. In addition to the catfish and the sides, my order was also served with hush puppies. On top of the great food, I have to tell you, the ice tea was something special.

While I was enjoying the catfish, I looked over to the table next to me, and saw two good old boys eating a couple of impressive-looking overstuffed barbecue sandwiches. Under normal circumstances, I might have regretted my decision to get the catfish, but not that day. I was on a mission to satisfy my catfish craving, and not even those delicious looking beef sandwiches could deter me.

After having devoured those wonderful fried catfish filets at Ken’s Catfish & BBQ, with the accompanying sides, I felt so much better and headed home. It will be a month or so before I get a hankering for catfish again, but, when I do, I know that I will be able to find respite in one of the many places in the Texas Hill Country that know how to fry them up properly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Keeping History Alive On The North Shore Of Lake Travis

It’s often been said that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And, I might also add, that hundreds of pictures are worth many more thousands of words. But I’ll leave it to you to calculate the exact number.

For the longest time, as a resident living on the North Shore of Lake Travis, I’ve been trying to locate old photographs of the area, with little success. It’s not that old photographs of the area don’t exist, because they do, it’s just that they have been held in private family collections and have never been published. All that changed this year when The North Shore Heritage and Cultural Society, through Arcadia Publishing, published a new image book, The North Shore of Lake Travis.

Last week, in the local newspaper, I read where the society was going to promote the new book in Lago Vista, with those responsible for its creation on hand for a book signing. As you can imagine, I was excited as a school boy on the last day of class before summer break.

The day of the book sale, it could not have had a better day. Arriving shortly after things got underway, I was warmly greeted by members of the society. After purchasing my book, I watched as it was signed, not only by those people most responsible for the book, but also by others who, just like those who had made the book happen, were a genuine part of the history of the north shore. Notable among these folks were Marge Richards, the only living daughter of a Civil War veteran in Texas, Vernon Hollingsworth, an honored veteran of WWII, and Betty Jo Carter, who grew up around Lake Travis.

People like John and Charlene Vohs, Janice (Hollingsworth) McGrew, Genny (Rodgers) Kercheville, Gloria Van Cleve, and Shirley Davis, who have lived many years on the north shore of the lake, contributed so much, and spent several years pulling the book together, were kind enough to spend several minutes speaking with me. In those few minutes, I learned much about the local history of the north shore. But, perhaps, more important, I learned that they were extremely proud of the north shore’s history, and passionate about preserving its past, by keeping its history alive.

As I was walking out, I noticed that a few more books about the north shore were being offered for sale. Genny Kercheville’s, Nameless, Its History and Its People, and Lago Vista, Its Story And Its People, edited by Bruce Vernier and JoAnn Siefken, were also available. Of course, I thought I had hit the jackpot, and bought those as well. In just a few short days since the signing, I've read all the books. Each of them offers a fascinating insight into the history of the lake's north shore. The photographs in all three books are priceless, and will be appreciated by anyone who is familiar with the area.

It’s now quite apparent to me, that there are a lot of folks on the north shore who are very passionate about its history. And, as they are truly the ones keeping the history of the area alive, I was just glad to be a small part of it the other day, as I met them and purchased their important historical contribution to the area.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dead Man’s Hole: Civil War And Reconstruction Violence In The Texas Hill Country

When the guns of the American Civil War finally fell silent in 1865, the violence in the South did not end.

Reconstruction brought about its own form of cruelty and bloodshed as the South sought to redefine itself, after having its institutions, economy, and the traditional lifestyle of its people destroyed. Many Southerners, resentful and bitter about the conditions which the war, and its conclusion, had brought about, lashed out.

Nowhere was this violent passion more evident than in Texas. The target of this violence was most often those Texans who had not supported the Confederate cause, occupying federal soldiers enforcing military rule, and the newly enfranchised freedmen. In Texas, during the Civil War and its aftermath, intimidation, fear, physical assaults, murder, and blood-feuds were common, and many famous killers and gunmen, like John Wesley Hardin, were able to ply their murderous trade against the backdrop of a sympathetic or intimidated local populace. In many cases, crimes against those who had not supported secession, federal soldiers, and freedmen were not taken seriously and were hidden, covered-up, ignored, or produced “Not Guilty” verdicts in counties throughout Texas.

Burnet County, in the Texas Hill Country, was no exception. But, extreme partisans of the South in this county had their own unique way of disposing of those with whom they disagreed. A few miles south of Marble Falls, on Shovel Mountain Road, is an opening in the earth’s surface. The hole, first discovered in 1821, has a depth of at least 155 feet.

During the Civil War, John R. Scott, Burnet County’s Chief Justice, and a Union supporter, was murdered and thrown into the hole. Before the war’s end, others accused of not being sympathetic to the Confederacy met the same fate, including a young worker named Adolph Hoppe. After the war, the hole continued filling up with bodies, as local government officials responsible for administering Reconstruction policies were targeted. One of the last men to enter the hole was a man named Ben McKeever. After a dispute with some freedmen, he was murdered and then dumped into the hole. It is thought that about 17 men ended up in the hole before the violence came to an end. At one time, an oak tree grew next to the opening, and its limbs were scarred with rope marks from hangings.

Exploration of the hole did not begin in any substantive way until the 1950’s, because of noxious gases found inside. The hole was later sealed with a grate, and in 1999, the land around it was given to the county by its owner for use as an historical park. The hole, located at the very end of a dirt road, is identified by a Texas Historical Commission marker. Not surprisingly, given the violent events which took place at the hole, it remains an eerie and haunting place, even in the daylight. It is also a grim reminder of a tragic and bloody time in the history of Texas.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sandra Bullock Is Having A Great Year, And I Had A Great Day

In today’s very busy world, multi-tasking is absolutely essential in order to get everything done, and so, I decided to accomplish two things over lunch a couple of days ago. First, have a great lunch. Second, pick up something for a special valentine, my wife, for this Valentine’s Day weekend. Thanks to Sandra Bullock, although unbeknownst to her, I was able to accomplish both things in one place, and it was in her place.

Her place, or more correctly, one of her places, is Walton’s Fancy and Staple on West 6th Street, in Austin, Texas. Actress Sandra Bullock has enjoyed a lot of success over the last year, as moviegoers have enjoyed both The Proposal, and The Blind Side. It is well known that Bullock has received numerous nominations and awards for these two films, including, a 2010 Oscar nomination for Actress in a Leading Role for The Blind Side. What is less known, at least outside of Austin, is that Sandra Bullock both lives in Austin and is quite an astute and successful businesswoman in the city.

Walton’s Fancy and Staple, which opened in 2009, joins Bullock’s other Austin restaurant, Bess Bistro, which was opened several years earlier. But Walton’s is more than just a mere eatery; rather, it is a bakery, delicatessen, coffee shop, floral mart, gift store, and caterer. In other words, you can get more than one thing done during a visit, which is why I headed down there in the first place.

After finding a place to park on 5th street, I walked the block over and went inside. Upon ordering a hot cheese and bacon sandwich, and a cup of the soup of the day, potato, I made my way over to a small table which faced the refrigerated floral cases. As I waited for my food, I watched several florists adding more floral arrangements to the cases. It wasn’t long before I spotted the Valentine flower arrangement I wanted, and kept my eye on it throughout lunch, hoping that no one else would buy it before I finished eating.

Quite soon, my sandwich arrived, served up in a wire basket lined with paper. I must admit, I’m partial to grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled cheese sandwiches at so many places are often small, cold, soggy, and served on cheap bread, with a few dill pickle slices on the side. But, like any true grilled cheese aficionado, I even love eating those. In contrast, the sandwich at Walton’s was a hot delicacy, grilled on bakery bread, which was both crispy and buttery, with big pieces of smoked bacon poking out from the melted cheese. The sandwich was, in a word, outstanding.

The excellent sandwich aside, the service was extremely friendly, from the time I ordered until I walked out of the door. Late into my lunch, one of the employees came up to me and asked if I was serving in the U.S. Army, as I was wearing an army veteran baseball cap. I explained to her that I was not currently in the army, but was a military veteran. She thanked me for my service and we chatted for a moment or two. What a nice gesture on her part, and one which I did not expect. It only added to what was already a very favorable experience with the food.

Once I finished lunch, I walked over to the floral case and removed the Valentine flowers I had identified earlier. After the flowers had been paid for and carefully secured in a box, I left. As I walked back to the car, I reflected that all of my original goals in visiting Walton’s had been achieved, but the visit had turned out to be so much more. There is no doubt that Sandra Bullock is having a great year. But, indirectly, thanks to her, I had a great day. With Valentine flowers for my wife, the benefit of a very fine lunch, and the unexpected and kind thank you for military service performed long ago, it could not have been a better day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lessons Of Life, Like Rules, Are Meant To Be Broken: A Great Cuban Sandwich In Texas

One of the things which life has taught me, is that the farther away you get from the original of something, the less likely it is to be as good. But, the lessons of life, like rules, are sometimes meant to be broken.

An older brother of mine, Rick, introduced me to my first Cuban sandwich at a place in Tampa many years ago. That place was called Hugo’s Spanish Restaurant. And, although that was a mighty long time ago, it was a mighty fine sandwich, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Of course, like all historically popular foods, there is disagreement over what constitutes the “real” Cuban sandwich. To determine what was in the original sandwich, you need to look back to the geographical source. I’m not sure if anyone can legitimately determine whether the sandwich itself actually originated in Cuba, Tampa, or somewhere else in Florida. But, since Florida is less than 100 miles away from Cuba, I’m not going to spend a lot of time quibbling about it here.

I believe, right or wrong, that traditionally, a true Cuban sandwich consists of the basic components of Cuban bread (sometimes sliced at an angle), roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, very thinly sliced dill pickles, and mustard. In some cases, mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce are added. What Cuban sandwiches all have in common, is that they are heated and pressed in a hot iron press.

Over the years, as I have sought out other Cuban sandwiches around the country, I have often been disappointed. In many cases, while the sandwiches may have had the correct basic ingredients, they also had the very “life” squeezed out of them by some overzealous restaurant employee operating the hot press. The end result, were sandwiches with bread so hard it could crack a tooth, and meat absolutely devoid of any moisture whatsoever. To make matters worse, the sandwiches were often served with a side of potato chips. I don’t claim to be an expert on Cuban cuisine, but I can’t believe that potato chips are on the list. Like I mentioned earlier, the farther away you get from the original of something, the less likely it is to be as good. But, of course, there are exceptions.

It is not surprising that I found an excellent Cuban sandwich being served up out of a trailer in Austin, Texas. Austin is a town which prides itself on being different and weird, but it is also a town filled with both a lot of young entrepreneurs and a lot of trailer food. When entrepreneurs, trailers, and food combine, the results are often spectacular.

The Texas Cuban Sandwich trailer has been located on Austin’s South Lamar Boulevard since September of 2009. Relative newcomers to the trailer food offerings in South Austin, the two young entrepreneurial owners have quickly established themselves and have built quite a following. There is little wonder why. Whether you are eating a Cuban sandwich for the first time, or have eaten hundreds of them over the years, this sandwich is worthy of mention.

The menu is rather limited, but by no means is that an impediment. This is, after all, a small trailer, and not a sit down restaurant. The focus, as it should be, is on the sandwich. The “Texas Cuban,” as you would expect, is an oversized Cuban sandwich reflecting the size of Texas itself. The smaller, “El Cubano,” is what I ordered, and unless you are sharing the sandwich with someone, or have a Texas-sized appetite, it is big enough for one person. The sandwich has all the ingredients which you would expect in a traditional Cuban, including, pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced deli-style crunchy pickles. Mayo and mustard, however, are served on the side. But, there are some differences. The pressed Cuban bread, while correctly cut, is flavored with garlic, and, in addition to the Swiss cheese, provolone cheese is also added. Since I’m a fan of both, I liked this “twist” to the traditional sandwich. The best thing of all was how moist the sandwich was. While the bread was nicely pressed, the meats and pickles inside were unbelievably moist.

Every Cuban sandwich from the trailer is served with fried plantain chips. The chips were thin, crispy, and salty, and provided a perfect complement to the sandwich. The sandwich aside, I could easily go back just for the plantain chips. If you want a beverage, you pull it out of an ice box which sits outside next to the ordering window.

What a great sandwich coming from a couple of guys operating out of a trailer. Despite the fact that Texas is across the Gulf of Mexico from both Cuba and Florida, the distance has not changed the quality of this Cuban sandwich one bit.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Price Of Progress: The Lost Opportunity To Preserve An Entire Commercial Airport

Commercial airliners, on their final maneuvers before landing in Austin, Texas, more often than not fly over or near a large airport control tower in the city. But these day, the airliners pass right by the old tower, just like time itself did many years ago.

The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, named after an Austin city councilman, helped usher Austin into the commercial aviation age when it was first opened in 1930’s. Despite several attempts to modernize the airport through the years, one thing which could not be changed was its location. As time went on, the airport soon found itself surrounded by a growing and vibrant city. The airport, with its congestion, noise, and lack of room to expand eventually meant its days were numbered.

As ideas and proposals were put forth to build a new airport, the U.S. Government decided to close Bergstrom Air Force Base, which was conveniently located on the southeast edge of the city. The base was originally built as an army air field during World War II, and later became Bergstrom Air Force Base in the late 1940’s. Over the years, Bergstrom accommodated both strategic long-range bombers and tactical fighters for the U.S. Air Force, and the long runways and somewhat rural location were perfect for adapting itself into a commercial repurposing. With the closure of the military air base in 1993, the City of Austin, which actually owned the land on which Bergstrom Air Force Base sat and had reversion rights if the military ever left, was suddenly given an unexpected “gift” to solve its Mueller Airport problem.

It was 1999, before Bergstrom Air Force Base was finally converted into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. As the new commercial airport opened, Robert Mueller Municipal Airport was closed forever. And, with the closure, nearly 70 years of commercial aviation history in Austin disappeared.

For many years after Mueller Municipal Airport was closed, it sat silent and empty like some old Texas “ghost town.” Its buildings, signs, and runways sat intact, seemingly suspended in time. Eventually, a Planned Unit Development, under the name of Mueller, was approved, with construction beginning in earnest in 2007. It is a well thought out project, which will no doubt be very successful when completed, comprising of homes, shopping, parks, and a medical center.

Today, the new homes abutting the main body of the old airport are very nice, but at least at this stage, in my opinion, seem to replicate a suburbia found in a thousand other cities across the country. To the north of the new homes, looms the main body of the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. Along with the old airport control tower, no longer in control of commercial airline traffic flying into Austin, are a few remaining artifacts of the past.

Americans always tend to look forward, not back. This is a good thing generally, and has propelled our country’s success over the last couple of hundred years. But, I wonder what the future importance and historical significance might have been to future generations if Austin had preserved the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, intact, as a museum along with music venues and shops. While Austin, as a city, prides itself as being different, I think it missed a great opportunity with respect to Mueller. While Austin citizens often decry and protest the destruction of a single pecan tree in the city, or the potential loss of a small music cafe on the University of Texas campus, it missed a chance to save something which was much more difficult to preserve, an entire commercial airport, representing nearly a three-quarters of a century of American history.

Money and development, it seems, nearly always trumps historical preservation. Sadly, this is the price of "progress."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Being In The Wrong Place Can Sometimes Last Beyond Life Itself

The story of the outlaw Sam Bass is still very well known around Round Rock, Texas. After Sam and his famous gang rode into the city in July 1878, intending to rob a bank, his name and legend have grown in notoriety and have been synonymous with Round Rock itself. Books and songs have been written about Bass, and, while he did not leave Round Rock alive, his memory has remained alive, given all the things in town still named after him.

The same, however, cannot be said for the deputy sheriff Bass killed in Round Rock, who also died very young, and in contrast to Sam Bass, has remained in relative obscurity ever since.

Sam Bass, was born in Indiana in 1851, and like many from the eastern part of the United States during that era, he eventually headed west. While it seems he first tried to be a law abiding citizen, things did not work out and he soon began robbing trains and banks. Although an outlaw, he was viewed by many in his time, to be a “Robin Hood” like figure, in that he had a reputation of “taking” things only from the rich. There were many people in the poor and rural areas of Texas, and around the South, who hoped he would never be caught and actually mourned his death.

Ahijah W. (A.W.) Grimes was born in 1850, in Bastrop County Texas, to a well-known Texas family. His ancestors and relatives were early Texas pioneers, politicians, defenders of the Alamo, and were present at the Battle of San Jacinto. A.W. Grimes, upon reaching adulthood, first became the Bastrop City Marshal, later a member of the Texas Rangers, and finally, a Williamson County Deputy Sheriff. In was in his position of deputy sheriff that he met up with Sam Bass in Round Rock on that fateful day of July 19, 1878.

Bass and his gang were betrayed by a fellow gang member, and, therefore, law enforcement officials knew the gang was headed to Round Rock to rob a bank. While Bass and his cohorts were casing the town, they went into Koppel’s General Store to purchase tobacco. Unfortunately for them, they had been spotted, not for who they were, but for carrying firearms in Round Rock. This was in violation of a local ordinance, and most likely a misdemeanor at the time.

Once alerted, Deputy Grimes walked into Koppel’s and asked Bass and his companions from behind if they were carrying firearms. Bass, in the process of turning around said something like, “yes, of course,” or just “yes.” But while Bass turned around to face Grimes, he was not only talking, but shooting his pistol. Grimes died instantly in the discharge of gunfire from Bass and his accomplices. Grimes never had a chance. He didn’t even have time to pull his gun.

While Grimes died on the spot, Bass quickly made his way out of the store, but was mortally wounded as he tried to leave town. One of his companions, Seaborn Barnes, was shot in the head and killed while attempting to flee. Bass, was quickly found on the outskirts of town, captured, and died a few days later while in the custody of the law.

Both Bass and Grimes were nearly the same age. Bass turned 27 the day of his death, and Grimes had just turned 28, a few weeks earlier. Other than age, they shared few similarities in life. Bass was a bachelor, who came from the Midwest and who had traveled the country living a life of crime. Grimes, on the other hand, was a native Texan, and a local peace officer who had a wife and several children. Despite the differences, they shared one thing in common; they were both in the wrong place when they encountered each other in the store that day long ago. The story, however, does not end there.

Soon after the shootings, Sam Bass and his “right bower,” Seaborn Barnes, were both laid to rest next to each other in Round Rock Cemetery. A.W. Grimes, in one more similarity with Bass, was also buried in the same cemetery. But, as in life, the similarities in death were few and far between.

Bass, as noted earlier, became even more famous after the Round Rock incident. He became a legend, and part of the ongoing folklore of the Old West. After his death, he was featured in books, songs, and films. For many years after the shootout, Round Rock residents took pride in the events which took place in Koppel’s General Store, and their pride focused almost exclusively in Sam Bass. Over the years, souvenir hunters chipped away at Sam’s gravestone to such an extent to where there was almost nothing left. In time, a new and impressive gravestone was erected for Sam Bass, and, over the years, roads, markets, music stores, and theatres were all named in his honor.

The memory of A.W. Grimes has not fared as well as the memory of Sam Bass. While it is true that Grimes only has a place in history, perhaps, because he was killed by the Bass Gang, it is also true that he was a very important element in ending the criminal activities of the gang. Until quite recently, he was relatively unknown, even in Round Rock. In a long overdue and belated gesture, a road in Round Rock was finally named in his honor a few years ago, and, even more recently, a medical center was named after him. But, even in death, it seems, it is still important to not be caught in the wrong place.

While Sam Bass was buried in the so-called “bad part” of Round Rock Cemetery and A.W. Grimes in the so-called “good part,” whatever that means, time should be a great equalizer. But, such is not the case. Today, the polished grave stones of the outlaws of Sam Bass and Seaborn Graves stand tall, and are frequently visited by people who leave everything from flowers to bottles and cans of beer.

In contrast, the original and weathered gravestone of A.W. Grimes, with the engraved words “Gone But Not Forgotten,” has been hard to find and is seldom visited. Despite the words on the stone, Grimes is both long gone and has been largely forgotten since his death. And, to add insult to injury, a recent storm blew down limbs off a large tree which sheltered his grave. In the process, his old gravestone was snapped at the base, and the metal marker indicating his service with the Texas Rangers was bent.

Being in the wrong place, it seems, can sometimes even last beyond life itself.