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Texas Tales

published: April 19th 2019
by: Mike Cox

If you ever find a letter sent from Goliad during the early days of the Civil War, hold onto it. Pasted on the envelope might be one of the rarer philatelic items known to collectors–a Goliad stamp.

The United States issued its first postage stamp in 1847, a couple of years after Texas became one of the states of the union. That was the same year the old Spanish town of Goliad got its first post office, though mail service in Texas dated back to the days of the republic. After statehood, the federal government delivered mail to the recipient based on weight and distance, the price of a letter ranging from 2 cents to 10 cents.
When Texas seceded to join the Confederacy early in 1861, U.S. stamps continued to be used until June 1 that year, more than a month after the war began. Since the Confederate government in Richmond had not gotten around to printing stamps yet, some Southern postmasters printed their own for a while. In Texas, seven post offices did that, including Goliad.
For some reason, Go-liad folks tended to use them more than residents of the other Texas towns, making the locally printed stamps more common. In this sense, however, common is a very relative word. Goliad stamps are still rarer than twice-a-day home mail delivery. Well, that never happens anymore. But if you ever do run across a Texas-issued Civil War stamp, chances are it will be one sold in Goliad.
Generically, these rare stamps are known to collectors as “Postmaster Pro-vincials.” Only 38 Southern cities issued them.
John A. Clarke was Goliad’s postmaster be-fore, during and after the war. The stamps he issued were produced in a variety of colors, including black, gray, rose, blue and green. The green stamps are the scarcest of the scarce. Denominations were 5 and 10 cents.
As the Goliad Advance Guard pointed out during the Great Depression in 1929: “If you had a green Goliad stamp and it was in fine condition on the original envelope, you would have no trouble in selling it for enough to buy a new automobile with the proceeds.”
When that story appeared, a few old timers still remembered the days of the Civil War and might even have had some of the stamps squirreled away. If any of those stamps surfaced today they would be even rarer. Only seven of the 5-cent Goliad stamps are known and only four of the 10-cent stamps.
In 2012, a New York auction house sold a rose-colored 5-cent stamp, on its original light blue envelope, for $37,500. A 10-cent gray Goliad stamp fetched $22,000 and a dark blue 5-cent stamp went for $10,500. That comes to $70,000 for three small pieces of paper. 
No matter what kind of stamp was affixed to the envelopes in the mail pouch, carrying the mail was a risky business in Texas until well after the Civil War. Along the state’s western frontier, mail riders who wanted to make their deliveries and keep their scalp had to be keenly aware of their surroundings. 
Before the war, a company of Texas Rangers under the legendary Capt. John S. “Rip” Ford patrolling in South Texas had an unusual encounter. When the rangers spotted a solitary rider in the distance, they thought he was an Indian and gave chase. The lone rider, who in reality was a postal carrier, took the charging rangers as Indians and spurred his horse into a wild gallop.
During his frenzy to escape the “Indians,” the mail rider lost or dumped his mail bags. When the rangers rode up on the bags and realized their mistake, they picked them up and galloped off again to apologize and give the mailman his bags back.
“Come get your mail,” one of the rangers yelled when they got close enough. “We are not Indians.”
But the mail rider kept frantically spurring his horse and the rangers decided that following him was not worth jading their horses. Even so, the frightened mail carrier didn’t slow down or stop until he got to Goliad. Safely back in town, he proudly proclaimed that he had outrun a wily Indian raiding party.
“They couldn’t fool me with their English,” he said.
Of course, he was going to have to start looking for his jettisoned mail bags.
The use of Goliad stamps was about as short-lived as the Ranger’s chase of that postal rider. The Confederacy finally printed stamps in October 1861, making the provincial stamps obsolete. In fewer than four years, the Confederacy and its stamps had both become obsolete.
***
When Lake Kemp filled in 1924, unless they’d been to the ocean, West Texans had never seen so much water in one place.
Formed by damming the Wichita River in 1923, the lake covered 15,357 square feet with a capacity of 268,811 acre feet of water. Located roughly 40 miles west of Wichita Falls, not only was Lake Kemp the largest lake in Texas, at the time it was the seventh-largest man-made lake in the world.
Naturally, normally water-craving folks stampeded to the new lake like a runaway herd of thirsty Longhorns.
“Lake Kemp is becoming one of the most popular places in this section for people to spend their Sundays...,” the Vernon Record said on May 24, 1924. “Hundreds of people...leave here early Sunday morning and spend the day at the lake, having their lunch, picnic style, on the banks...and spending the day enjoying the great outdoors.”
The article went on to say that the road between Vernon and the lake  “on Sundays has the appearance of an important highway with its continuous line of cars carrying the pleasure seekers to and from the new lake.”
But all the people going to Lake Kemp were simply out for an al fresco meal. The lake had been stocked with fish. As it turned out, the fishing was too good.
A year after the lake opened, the Vernon newspaper reported that the North Texas Game and Fish Association had persuaded the governor to sign a bill making it illegal to take any fish from the lake during March and April. That two-month piscatorial prohibition, an officer of the association explained, would give the fish time to multiply “before they were taken in great numbers.”
For anyone who liked to fish, the new law had the effect of making May 1 opening day of fishing season. (A lot of states have fishing seasons, but this was only a local bill. Texas has never had a statewide fishing season.)
While Vernon residents obviously enjoyed the lake, the impoundment lay even closer to another county seat, Seymour. Lake Kemp being only nine miles from town, people there began to see Kemp as their lake. 
The lake’s proximity to Seymour, the implementation of a fishing season, and the propensity of Baylor County residents to fish its waters set the hook on what was either one of the most benevolent acts ever on the part of a city official or one of the cleverest public relations stunts in Texas history.
Observing the number of locally owned businesses closing on May 1 so that their owner could go fishing, in 1925 Seymour’s mayor made it official: Henceforth, on May 1 the town would shut down for Go Fishing Day. The move spawned nationwide publicity.
“The only news conducive of calmness,” wrote New York Sun front page columnist Dave Boone, “is that the town of Seymour, Texas closed all courts, schools, banks, and business houses to observe an official fishing holiday. Now there is an idea. Nothing would bring us back to a calm, peaceful attitude than a day’s fishing. If all of Europe, for instance, would go fishing for 24 hours, it would just about restore order, common sense, and a proper sense of right and wrong.”
Seymour’s “gone fishing” holiday continued through the Great De-pression, the violent run-up to World War Two and even during the war when then mayor C.M. Randal said the May 1 holiday was “a gesture of defiance to dictators who would allow no more fish days.” 
On May 1, 1953 a na-tionally syndicated newspaper cartoon called “Strange as it Seems,” noted beneath a drawing of two fishermen in a boat that “May Day is ‘Fishing Day’ in Seymour, Texas! By proclamation of the mayor, it has been declared a holiday for the past 28 years...Except for Christ-mas, it is the most observed holiday of the year….”
Unfortunately for West Texas anglers, while the go fishing holiday endured, the robust Lake Kemp fishery did not. Sedimentation, periodic droughts and toxic golden alga blooms made the lake much less fish friendly.  
Seymour’s current fa-vorite fishing hole is Miller Creek Reservoir, impounded in 1974. Only 32 miles from Seymour, the newer lake offers excellent catfish angling, good crappie or hybrid bass fishing and fair fishing for largemouth bass. By contrast, the Texas Parks and Wildlife website labels fishing in Lake Kemp “poor to fair.”
These days, the modern version of Go Fishing Day happens on the first Saturday of May, when there’s a First Day Bass Tournament on Miller Creek Reservoir. But Seymour no longer shuts down every May 1.

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