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Texas Tales

published: October 20th 2017
by: Mike Cox
Unlike many workers today, when for corporate up and comers three to five years is considered a long time to stay with one company, Richard Adams apparently did not exert any effort whatsoever looking for a better job.
Better known to his co-workers with the Inter-national and Great North-ern Railroad as "Uncle Dick," Adams hired on with the company in 1871 when it was still just the Great Northern. Fifty-five years later -- yes, a half-century plus five -- he still worked for the same line.
By the spring of 1926, Adams had seen 79 birthdays come and go.  And he was still on the I&GN payroll as a crossing gate tender in San Antonio. (This was before the automation of railroad crossing gates when safety, like just about everything else, was much more labor intensive.)
At the time, the I&GN was part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In its April 1926 issue, that company's employee magazine published an article on Adams along with his photograph under a terse heading that read "55-Year Record." Adams does not look particularly happy in the photo, but maybe he was merely annoyed at the delay in getting back to work.
"Born in County Cork, Ireland," the article noted, "he came to this country as a child. Upon reaching manhood, he went to work in 1871 on what was then known as the Great Northern, which was being constructed north from Houston...with no definite destination in view, it is said, except to connect somewhere with the International Railroad that was then built as far west as Jewett, Texas."
Actually first known as the Houston and Great Northern, the company had been chartered by the state in October 1866. That line merged with the International Railroad in 1873 to become the I&GN. At the time, it had 252 miles of track in Texas. From then on, while Adams continued to toil away, the I&GN remained in a state of relative corporate chaos, surviving re-ceiverships, mergers and several owners until it became part of the Missouri Pacific system in 1922.
The same year the International and Great Northern became one entity, Adams look part in another merger of sorts. In 1873, he was married to Harriet Wisbey of Willis. And 55 years later, their marital train remained on the tracks right along with his career. Clearly, Adams thought switching was something you did with train tracks, not jobs or marriages.
At its peak, the I&GN maintained more than 1,000 miles of track in the state and extended from Laredo to San Antonio, Austin and then on to Palestine. The line also served Houston, Fort Worth and points in between.
Adams' career, thanks to that long-ago in-house publication, is much easier to follow than the I&GN story. He literally started at the ground level doing grade work (which back then depended on pickax and shovel) and then became a track layer. Again, that was manual labor with spikes driven into railroad ties by blows from a sledge hammer.
In time moving into a supervisory role, he became a section foreman and next a yard foreman. Finally, he got promoted to road master.
Having already been with the company for 34 years, in 1905 he became a crossing guard in San Antonio. When the employee magazine ran its piece on him, he was assigned to the gates at Lake View Avenue in the Alamo City.
That job must have been tantamount to being put out to pasture. Before automation, someone with the railroad had to physically lower the protective gates to keep vehicles from crossing the tracks when a train approached. At busier intersections, railroads often had small guard shacks or even watch towers that would make it easier for a guard to see a train coming.
Doubtless boring compared with other work Adams had done for the I&GN, being a crossing guard was no less important a job for the railroad. A train accident meant damaged rolling stock, possible injury or death and often, litigation.
According to that long ago article on Adams, he wasn't even the longest-serving I&GN employee. That honor went to A.R. Howard, the company's treasurer. Howard had already been on the job as assistant paymaster when Adams started with the line in 1871.
How much longer Adams remained with the I&GN, when he died and where he is buried have not yet been determined. But his stick-to-it nature is not in question.
Decades before women would have career options beyond the classroom, secretarial pool or hospital nursing station, Bess Kennedy proved that a Texas woman can do just about anything she has a mind to.
In the 1930s, Kennedy made her living trapping, trailing and killing mountain lions in South Texas. Along with the big cats, she worked to eliminate coyotes and other predators from the brush country. While she was a diminutive woman, properly placed and baited traps or high powered rifle rounds know no gender.
Bess and husband Bob worked for the U.S. Biological Survey, a branch of the Department of Agriculture. They plied their trade as hired guns moving from ranch to ranch as a need arose. With their young daughter Betty Bob, the couple lived in trailers or tents out in the mesquite where the big cats prowled and the rattlesnakes crawled. The couple stayed on one ranch until they had trapped the lion or lions depredating livestock or until they could find no further tracks or dead livestock.
Since mountain lions (aka cougars, panthers and pumas--all the same critter) are definitely not home bodies, a lack of fresh sign meant the couple had caught the only offender in the area. If they hadn't found a cat despite initial indications of its presence, it had moved on. Year round, mountain lions go where the "groceries" are and seasonally they travel in search of a mate.
By the early 1940s, Bess had grown so good at her job that she became a celebrity, the lady lion hunter.  In the fall of 1942, the New York publisher Whittlesey House brought out a book ostensibly written by her, "The Lady and the Lions: My Adventures as a U.S. Government Hunter." The book does not read the way you'd expect a 30-year-old lacking even a full high school education would write. Likely she had a ghost writer, though the book makes no mention of that. Still, it's engaging and full of action.
Before going on the federal payroll, Bess had helped support her family by trapping raccoons and other fur-bearers while her husband sought predators.
"Every one of the rascals was wearing a pelt worth from 25 cents to a dollar and a half," she (or someone) wrote of the raccoons, "and it irked me to see that money scampering up and down the creek when we needed it badly. Every two bits counted... with our debts."
In deference to his young family, Bob Ken-nedy took them back to the city for a time, but the Great Depression made it almost impossible to find any work other than what he knew -- trapping. As a reviewer for Kirkus wrote shortly after "The Lady and the Lion" hit the stores, "after a year or so, they decided to go back to the hard life that meant so much to him. Bess, helping, sometimes pinch-hitting, grew to like it, and when offered a job, she took it. She knew fear -- and conquered it; she went after lion, polecat, coyote, wild hog, and the omnipresent rattlers. And she made a success of it."
The reviewer went on to label the book an "interesting and novel approach to rough, dangerous living -- but not literature."
Once, Bess checked one of her traps and found it contained two lion toes. A big cat had managed to free itself, and she knew it would not be in a good mood when she encountered it.
With her dog Blackie, Bess trailed the lion. She found it in a tree, but as Blackie bayed and growled, the cat leaped to the ground and ran with the dog right behind him. Next he jumped onto the low-hanging branch of another tree, barely out of reach of the dog.
"He was nervous, glared first at Blackie, then at me, and my problem was to shoot him and miss the dog, whose frenzied jumps brought him almost in line with the lion," Bess wrote. (Bess' other problem was the possibility that the wounded animal would attack her first.) "I took slow, careful aim and Blackie was at his throat when he touched the ground. Luckily, I had got in a death shot through the heart, which killed him instantly, else even in death throes he would have hurt"
For a woman who spent years tracking mountain lions in South Texas, following publication of her book, Bess Kennedy did not leave an easy trail to follow.
She was born around 1912 in Frio County, where her grandfather settled in the 1870s. Eloping at 16, she married Bob Kennedy. A few years later, they had a little girl, but that was about all that was traditional about their lives. Other than a couple of reviews of her book, despite her one-time renown, there's no mention of Bess Kennedy online., which lists more than 170 million grave sites, is silent on the lady lion hunter's final resting place.

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