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Texas Tales

published: October 4th 2019
by: Mike Cox
Why on Earth would someone name a town Earth?
Just imagine the communication inconveniences plaguing those living in the Lamb County community of Earth:
“Where’re you from?”
“I’m from Earth.”
“Har, har! Me, too. Where are you really from?”
When you live in this High Plains town 70 miles northwest of Lubbock, every time you say goodbye to a visitor, you have to guard against a polite, “I’ll look forward to seeing you the next time you come to Earth.”
Or say you moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas, but occasionally like to go home to see family and friends.
“I’m going back to Earth for the holidays.”
Even if you stayed behind, when you’re ready to go someplace else, telling your friends, “I’m leaving Earth for a few days” could net a few snickers.
Obviously, simply asking someone if they have ever visited Earth can cause misunderstanding. 
Rancher William E. Halsell did not make the heavens above, or the fishes in the sea, but he created Earth in 1924. He had been in the area since 1901, when he bought up a huge chunk of the old XIT ranch for $2 an acre.  In August 1924 he had a town site platted and began selling lots.
The Halsell Land Co. built a hotel, a cotton gin and the first house. Within a couple of years Earth could boast of a café, a service station, a store or two and more residences. And that’s about all the solid ground there is when it comes to the history of Earth.
Researchers have un-earthed at least four versions of how a point in a rural High Plains county became Earth:
The first settlers wanted to call the new town Tulsa, but the U.S. Post Office quickly took them back to Tulsa as a bad choice, since such a town already existed in Oklahoma.
Halsell supposedly called his town Fairlawn (some say Fairlene), but the frequent blowing dirt inspired someone to come up with Earth.
Another tale has R.C. “Daddy” Reeves, who operated the new town’s hotel, declaring: “We’ve got more earth here than anything else, let’s call it Earth.”
A final version has Halsell, wanting to emphasize the fertile soil around his town, came up with Good Earth. Washington, this tale holds, did away with “Good” and made the place plain old Earth.
While accounts vary as to how Earth, Texas got its worldly name, you can take to the soil bank that Earth is the only place in the United States called Earth. (There’s Black Earth, Wis-consin, Blue Earth, Min-nesota, White Earth, Minnesota and Md., Earth City, Missouri and Middle Earth, Maryland. but that’s as close as it gets.) Neither does a global search reveal another Earth anywhere on Earth. 
Someone seemingly with all the time on Earth has also discovered that in addition to Earth, the state of Texas has a small solar system of other towns named after the planets swirling around our sun. Beyond Earth, Texas’ extraterrestrial town names include Mercury, Mars, Saturn and Pluto. Several states have Venus, Jupiter and Neptune as town names, though no state has chosen to honor Uranus.  
But to get back to Earth, despite its all-encompassing name, it’s a pretty down-to-Earth community, a rural agricultural center whose principle landmark is a shiny silver-colored water tower with the green (as in “God’s green Earth”) letters E-A-R-T-H painted on its tank. 
Speaking of paint, several of the buildings along State Highway 70, the town’s main thoroughfare, have been enhanced by someone handy with a brush. 
The former movie theater, long since closed, has been dolled up as “The Tin Star,” featuring Anthony Perkins perpetually playing in “The Blob” with showings at 6 and 10 p.m. daily and matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays. 
Down the street at Main and Cedar is the paint-enhanced office of the Earth News, an imaginary newspaper “Dedicated to the Development of the World’s Richest Irrigation Area.” On the side of another building, someone painted a giant green population sign reading “Earth Pop. 1,019.”  
That population is not big enough to support its own school, so students go to class in nearby Spring-lake. Because of that, the football team is known as the Wolverines, not Earthmen.
Small but tough, Earth endured the Dust Bowl and the Depression but stayed in slow decline until the late 1970s. The high point of Earth’s orbit came in 1980, when the town’s population peaked at 1,512. But the number of those calling Earth home has dropped by nearly a third since then. 
Even the Dairy Queen stands abandoned these days.
***
Texas has 254 counties and 1,208 incorporated cities, but none are named for Henry Millard – a virtually forgotten hero of the Texas War for Indepen-dence.
The best the state has managed to do in remembrance of this early-day fighting Texan is attach his name to the 13th hole at Battleground Golf Course in Deer Park. Well, there is an official state historical marker about him placed in 1991 outside the Beaumont public library in the city he founded.
Part of Millard’s obscurity is easy enough to understand. When Texans think of the battle of San Jacinto, the first name that comes to mind is Sam Houston.
Oh yes, we recall, Houston defeated Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna on April 21, 1836 and assured Texas’ independence from Mexico. True enough, but the two men didn’t go “mano a mano” in a duel. Each had hundreds of “seconds” backing them up in that decisive contest of arms.
Houston relied on a small staff of senior officers commanding some 700 to 900 men, depending on which source you want to believe. The Mexican force had more officers and more rank and file soldiers.
On the Texas side, while Houston held overall command, he turned to five men as his field commanders. Of those five, four are relatively well known even to casual students of Texas history: Cols. Edward Bur-leson, George Washington Hockley, Mirabeau B. Lamar, and Sidney Sher-man.
Burleson, who led the First Regiment of Volun-teer Infantry, later became vice president of the Republic of Texas and had both a county and city named in his honor. Hockley, commander of artillery (including the famous Twin Sisters) got a county named after him. Lamar, who led a corps of cavalry that afternoon, became the Republic’s second president. He also got a county, a town and a university bearing his distinctive surname. Finally, Sherman, commanding the Second Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, got a town, a county and a college named in his honor.
Alas, no one bothered to recognize the final member of Houston’s battlefield leadership team, Lt. Col. Henry Millard.
No one has yet found his date of birth, but Millard is believed to have been born around 1796 in Stillwater, New York. A distant relative of Presi-dent Mil-lard Fillmore and novelist Nathaniel Haw-thorne, Millard came to Texas in 1835 after having spent time in Missouri, Missis-sippi and Louisiana. He and a partner bought land along a bluff on the Neches River and laid out a town site he called Beaumont, his late wife’s maiden name.
Millard quickly became active in separatist politics, and in late 1835 or early 1836 received a commission as lieutenant colonel in the Texian army.
At San Jacinto, he led two companies of regular infantry, 92 men in all. Along with Burleson’s regiment, Millard and his soldiers overwhelmed the Mexican breastworks and captured their cannon. 
“The artillery under… Col. Geo. W. Hockley… was placed on the right of the first Regiment; and four [sic] companies of Infantry under the command of Lieut. Col. Henry Millard, sustained the artillery upon the right,” Houston wrote.
Neither Millard nor any of his men suffered injuries that day, but one account has Millard’s horse having been shot from under him. Houston, who lost two horses, rode near Millard’s men when he suffered an ankle wound that plagued him for the rest of his life. Later, in appreciation of Millard’s service, the general presented the colonel with two pistols that had belonged to Santa Anna.
If Millard ever wrote an account of his role in the battle, it is not known today.
A few months after the battle, however, Millard made the newspapers by participating in an Army plot to arrest interim President David G. Burnet. The effort did not succeed, and Burnet booted Millard out of the Army. 
While that incident could explain Millard’s lack of recognition, he went on to hold public office in the new county of Jefferson as well as in Beaumont. Later, after moving to Galveston, he served as a militia colonel.
Just as his birthday is unknown, so is there confusion as to Millard’s date of death. He died at around 48 on either Aug. 28 or 29, 1844, in Galveston. He’s buried in the Episcopal Cemetery there.
One hundred and forty-one years later, in 1985, Judith Walker Linsley and Ellen Walker Rienstra revived his memory somewhat with an article called “Henry Millard, Forgotten Texian,” published in the Gulf Historical and Biographical Record. They also wrote the entry for Millard in the Handbook of Texas Online. 
Four days after the battle, still smarting from his wound, Houston sent his after-action report to President Burnet. While remembered for a high level of self-confidence bordering on arrogance, Houston said the right thing about his officers and men in his report:
“For the Commanding General to attempt discrimination as to the conduct of those who commanded in the action, or those who were commanded would be impossible. Our success…is conclusive proof of their daring intrepidity and valor; every officer and man proved himself worthy of the cause in which he battled, while the triumph received a luster from the humanity which characterized their conduct, after victory, and richly entitles them to the admiration and gratitude of their General.”
Houston was grateful for his officers and men, but the people of Texas failed to accord lasting recognition to Henry Millard. Well, except for that 13th hole in Harris County.
***
Opening day of deer season is still a pretty big deal for Texas sportsmen and those who make money off hunters, but it used to be huge.
Once upon a time, school kids in some parts of Texas got the day off from their classes on opening day. Of course, that was back when opening day could fall in the middle of the week. Today, for both the North and South Zones (amounting to 238 of Texas’ 254 counties), the kick-off for deer season is always the first Saturday in November.
While the Austin Inde-pendent School District never made the start of hunting season an official day off for its pupils, I must confess that I was seldom in school on that day. I was either out with my granddad as he took pictures and interviewed hunters in their deer camps or hunting with him. My mother, who knew not all education is found in the classroom, always cheerfully wrote my teacher a note asking that my absence be excused.
One year -- I think I was probably in the seventh or eighth grade -- I was with my granddad on the YO Ranch near Mountain Home in Kerr County. The outdoor editor for what was then Austin’s only television station got some footage of me looking at a bunch of deer that had been taken on the ranch and used it on the evening news. With delight, he reported on air that young Mike Cox said for him to be sure to report that he had been sick that day.
In the 1950s, granddad would take me with him when he went to see how things were going at check stations game wardens with what was then the Texas Game and Fish Commis-sion (now Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) would set up on roadways in prime deer hunting country. The signs they put up in the roadway said “Stop State Game War-den.”
In preparation for the operation, wardens would haul in a small corrugrated metal building, set up a camp on the highway right of way, and stop all vehicles to check for hunting law violations. While taking all that in, I usually would be standing around their campfire, wolfing down chocolate chip cookies baked by some warden’s wife.
Wardens certainly had the authority to look in a car truck to check game, but often they didn’t have to: Back then, hunters proudly carried their trophies on the hood of their car, or tied on top.  
When I went from observer to hunter, I was in the sixth grade. When I got my first deer, I remember thinking that my life was complete. I was indeed a step closer to manhood, but obviously I still had a way to go.
For several weeks now, I’ve been getting my hunting-camping gear ready. I’ve got more to do, but who wants to hurry? Preparation for the hunt is a big part of the fun.
In addition to that, my hunting buddy and I have been spending time at the place we hunt. He’s been using a gasoline-powered weed whacker to cut all the high grass around our feeder and where our blinds are. Too, there’s firewood to cut and stack, mouse nests to toss out of my trailer, campfire menus to plan and more.
The honest truth is that at my age, my blood has cooled somewhat. While I still enjoy hunting, I like the annual opening day ritual even if I never pull a trigger.
And of course, it’s not just me. Hundreds of thousands of Texas hunters will be taking to the field on opening day and thoroughout the season as often as they can get kitchen passes from their significant others. (That’s not to infer that some women don’t like hunting as much as men.)
Deer hunting used to be about survival, not an aspect of outdoor recreation.
Whitetail deer fed the Native Americans who first occupied Texas and later added to the protein choices of the first European explorers. By the mid-19th Century, deer still grazed the ocean-like grasslands of Texas in vast herds.
Deer, antelope and bear steaks often sizzled over the campfires of the early Anglo settlers – a meat source that unlike cattle, they didn’t have to keep penned or fed.
As Texas settled up, meat hunting continued, but deer also became a commodity. Deer died by the thousands just for their hides, a practice that continued even into the early 20th century.
Slowly, conservation laws were passed to stop the slaughter and save the species from exinction, a development that came barely in time. By the 1920s, deer had become scarce in Texas. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1950s that conservation efforts finally began to pay off. Today, an estimated 4 million deer roam the state.
By the way, don’t look for me in my office the day before opening day. I’ll be headed for the deer camp.
 
SLS

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