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Texas Tales

published: April 5th 2019
by: Mike Cox
Naming the capital city in tribute to Texas colonizer Stephen F. Austin was certainly fitting, but Austin could just as well been named Lamar in honor of a Georgia-born newspaperman with a penchant for poetry and grandiose thinking.
Mirabeau B. Lamar came to Texas in 1835 intending to write its history, a saga that even then trailed pretty far back. He never got around to doing his book (though he did gather a lot of material that is still useful to scholars today), but he certainly had a hand in making some of Texas’ history.
Lamar joined the Texian Army as a private but soon rose to colonel. He distinguished himself in the Battle of San Jacinto and that caught Sam Houston’s eye. When Houston ran for president, Lamar was elected vice president.
The two men, each with strong personalities but very different philosophies, soon fell out politically. Because the new Republic of Texas’s Constitution forbade a president from serving two consecutive terms, Lamar ran for office when Houston’s term expired. Houston campaigned against him, but Lamar got elected.
The main reason Lamar is important to Austin is that it probably would not have been chosen as capital had it not been for him. As often told, Lamar came on a buffalo hunt to what would become Austin. Not only did he knock down one of the big, shaggy animals, while sitting astride his horse on high ground overlooking the Colorado he opined, in so many words, that the landscape before him would be the future seat of empire. 
One of Lamar’s first acts as president was appointing a commission that soon, after a careful and of course impartial review of potential sites, agreed with the president that the area between where Shoal and Waller Creeks flow into the Colorado would indeed make a fine seat of empire.
As president, Lamar did everything he could think of to transform the young republic into a nation that could have rivaled the United States for North American dominance. Pro-blem was, two of his bigger ideas toward that end did not work. 
He tried to solve the republic’s financial woes by printing what amounted to worthless money. And hoping to bring in real money through commerce, he sent an armed expedition toward Santa Fe to establish a trade route between Austin and the old town. In reality, the move was as much about taking military control of Santa Fe and what is now eastern New Mexico as it was improved trade. The attempt failed spectacularly, the term “Santa Fe expedition” forever doomed to have the descriptive “ill-fated” in front of it.
While Lamar was far from perfect (his Indian policy was particularly brutal), he’s underrated in Texas history and all but forgotten, even in Austin. True, one of the capital city’s busiest north-south thoroughfares is named after him. But where is the Mirabeau B. Lamar Li-brary or even a statue erected in his honor? (There is a statue in Fort Bend County at Richmond, but not Austin.) There are state office buildings named for Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Lorenzo de Zavala, William B. Travis, John H. Reagan, Price Daniel, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clements and others.  But where is the Mirabeau B. Lamar State Building? Lamar isn’t even buried in the State Cemetery—his remains lie in the old city cemetery in Richmond.  
Back in the early 1960s, despite the suggestion of a prominent Austinite well familiar with Texas history, the citizens of Austin couldn’t even bring themselves to name their city lake in Lamar’s honor. It would be hard to come up with a name any more pedestrian than they did: Town Lake. That name didn’t go away until the lake was renamed for Lady Bird Johnson.
Statewide, there is a county in Northeast Texas and a semi-ghost town in Aransas County named in Lamar’s honor. A Liberty Ship constructed during World War II slid down the ways as the Mirabeau B. Lamar. Dallas and Hous-ton each have a Lamar Street downtown and there’s a golf course with its 10th hole named in Lamar’s honor. But that’s about it except for public schools.
Arlington, Houston and Rosenberg each has a Lamar High School; Aus-tin, Dallas, Flower Mound, Irving, Laredo and Temple have Lamar Middle Schools and Amarillo, Cor-pus Christi, El Paso, San Antonio and The Wood-lands have elementary schools named after the one-time Republic of Texas president.  Finally, there is Lamar University in Beaumont.
Lamar’s name graces a lot of schools because he was an early champion of education for Texas. It was his idea to set aside public land to provide for school funding, a concept that helped build the University of Texas and Texas A & M University into what they are today. For years, in fact, Texas students in many schools (including this former student) were required to memorize this Lamar quote: “The cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy and, while guided and controlled by virtue, the noblest attribute of man. It is the only dictator that free men acknowledge and the only security that free men desire.” Maybe that practice ought to be re-instituted. 
The tired trail driver alighted from his saddle, tied his horse and waddled toward the chuck wagon. Breathing dust behind cantankerous longhorns all morning had the Texas drover mighty hungry for lunch. 
“What’s for dinner, Cookie?”
“This ain’t Delmoni-co’s,” the master of the chuck wagon replied. “Same thing’s yestiddy... fried steak, taters, biscuits, molasses and Arbuckle’s.” (The West’s favorite coffee before Starbucks.)
Ravenous as he was, the cowpoke gazed down at his ample belly, a spread that looked about as big as King’s Rancho down in South Texas. He really needed to lose some weight.
“I was thinking baked chicken breast with herbal seasoning, lightly sauteed mushrooms, steamed as-paragus...maybe some canned tomatoes,” he said. “I need to do something about this danged corpulence. I’ve awled two extra notches in my belt and my horse’s been breathin’ hard when I’m in the saddle. Shoot, I start blowin,’ too, ever time I climb on him.” 
The cook spat in the fire, barely missing the beans slow cooking for the cowboys’ evening meal.
“If you don’t like my grub, maybe YOU should start cooking for the boys.”
Normally, the threat of having to rustle up his own victuals shut up even the most vociferous of complaining trail hands. But this young man really wanted to shed the love handles before he and the boys hit the Dodge City dance halls. It was time to start banting.
Then the cowboy re-membered an ad he’d seen in the Austin Statesman. He’d bought a copy as their herd went up Congress Avenue right after crossing the Colorado.
“Reckon you don’t happen to have a bottle of Allan’s Anti-Fat?” the weight-conscious drover asked in near desperation.
While the foregoing is fanciful, a little research shows that some early Texans were as worried about their waistline as they were about the spread of newly invented barbed wire.
Delving into arcane cultural history is something there’s plenty of time for when you’re only consuming 800 calories a day on a medically supervised weight loss program. After all, it only takes seconds to open a packet, mix the powder into eight ounces of water, and enjoy either a strawberry, vanilla or chocolate shake. And there’s no shopping, cooking, washing dishes or eating out.
“Corpulence is not only a disease itself, but the harbinger of others,” the Greek Hippocrates wrote back when he and his fellow Mediterranean think-ers were busy coming up with all the many truths that still hold up.
But a 19th century man is credited with inventing the notion of losing weight in deference to one’s health or appearance. His name was William Banting, and depending on the source, he was either a London upholsterer or undertaker. Not disputed is that he suffered from corpulence.
“In a year and 17 days,” the El Paso Times of Nov. 8, 1890 informed its readers, Banting “reduced his weight from 202 pounds to 156. He elaborated a dietetic method of curing corpulence, which method is now known by his name.”
Yes, for generations, going on a diet was called “banting.” And being overweight was known as corpulence.
Mr. Banting had deduced during the Civil War that eating fewer carbohydrates and consuming less sugar led to weight loss. By the 1870s, the quack medicine industry was making money off narcotic or alcohol-laden preparations that did at least make you feel like you were better. Perhaps they could offer their customers something to help them in banting.
The June 22, 1878 Austin Daily Statesman carried an ad from J.C. Allan’s Botanic Medicine Co. of Buffalo, New York touting a concoction called Allan’s Anti-Fat. The ad featured an engraving showing a woman before taking Allan’s Anti-Fat and after. The drawing on the left depicted a large and sad looking lady.  On the right was the same woman, now of normal size and a happier countenance.
“Purely vegetable and perfectly harmless,” the ad declared, the preparation “...acts upon the food in the stomach, preventing its being converted into fat.”
Of course, the ad continued, one must follow the directions when using Allan’s Anti-Fat. But for those who did, the ad went on, “it will reduce a fat person from two to five pounds per week.” Left unsaid, though implied, was that users of Allan’s Anti-Fat could eat anything they wanted. This miraculous remedy cost only $1.50 a bottle at drug stores or “by express.” Three bottles (the ad cleverly said a “quarter-dozen”) only cost $4.
The following month, the Capital City daily carried a short item that today we’d call an advertorial. “Fat People Easily Sun-struck,” the headline warned. Then: “Fat people are not only liable to sudden death from heart disease, apoplexy, etc., but statistics show...they are more liable than others to sunstroke and affections arising from extreme heat.”
What was a cowboy on the Chisholm Trail to do?
Thankfully some reassuring news: “An extensive experience in the treatment of corpulence has resulted in the introduction of Allan’s Anti-Fat, a safe, certain, and speedy remedy for the cure of this terrible condition. If corpulent people who are exposed to the rays of the sun value life, and a comfortable existence, let them use Allan’s Anti-Fat.” 
By late September, the Statesman ran a Botanic ad containing letters from happy customers. While all the correspondence reported excellent results, none came from west of the Mississippi. (Which may explain the company’s Texas advertising campaign.)
This ad offered even more good news. Not only did Allan’s Anti-Fat cure corpulence, it purified the blood, promoted digestion, cured dyspepsia and “is...a potent remedy for rheumatism.”
Well, it’s about time for another faux milkshake. Anyone know where you can buy Allan’s Anti-Fat?

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