Walk with the Ghosts in Jefferson

    It’s getting to be that fabulously spooky time of year! Halloween is just one month away, so I want to share one of my favorite ghostly activities for families, friends, or – if you dare – all by yourself.

     I’m often asked by the people who take my ghost tours in Galveston if I take the same type of tours when I travel. You bet! These type of tours are a fun way to explore the local communities and their folklore…whether or not you’re a “believer.” There are a lot of ghost tours in the Lone Star State but hands-down my favorite tour to TAKE is the Historic Jefferson Ghostwalk.

     The small east Texas town of Jefferson is known as one of the most haunted towns in the state, and has no shortage of stories.

     As darkness falls, tour-goers gather at the corner of the Kahn Hotel to meet tour guide and resident ghost story expert Jodi Breckenridge. No one knows the stories about this town as well as she does. Jodi gives the tours every Friday and Saturday night year-round…so, truth be known, you don’t have to wait for the Halloween season to enjoy one.

     Every time I’ve been on her tour (yes, I’ve taken it more than once) there have been several others who are repeat customers. That may sound unusual, but each tour is a bit different depending on what does or doesn’t happen, and access to haunted locations. Those locations make this one of the best and most unique opportunities, because the tour goers will actually get to go inside a few! For each place Jodi shares a little bit of history and a few ghost stories.

     Take the word “walk” in the tour name seriously because you’ll be walking all around this charming town learning about the spirited residents of haunted hotels, houses, mansions, and bed and breakfasts, and businesses. You’ll even get to venture into the “Old Mill,” a darked antique market where attendees are encouraged to wander the aisles with the lights out. It always amazed me that I’ve never seen anyone knock anything over!

     Jodi encourages her customers to take photos along the way to see if they can “capture” something otherworldly, and shows a few spooky photos on her iPad from past tours.

     Now I’m going to let you in on how to make the most of this experience…

     Twice a year, Jody hosts a “History, Haunts & Legends Paranormal Conference.” I usually go once a year, and am one of the guest speakers. It happens once in the fall and once in the spring. The ticket price includes your chance to meet and shop from authors of books of ghost stories, people who sell ghost hunting equipment, craftspeople who selling hauntingly unusual goods and more, in addition to hearing a day full of spooky-topic talks. I suggest buying a “VIP” ticket, so that you can also participate in a multi-location ghost hunt on the Saturday night of the conference. Private homes open up, each with a real ghost hunting team stationed with equipment, and you can go from location to location to participate. You’re sure to come away with fun stories to tell your family and friends.

    Want to stay somewhere haunted while you’re there?

     Kahn Hotel (where I usually stay) is nice pretty low key, with a small coffee shop on the first floor. They openly admit they’re haunted, so they won’t think anything about it if you wander the halls with your “ghost meters.

     The elegant old Excelsior Hotel – notoriously haunted, but whatever you do don’t mention that to the staff – who don’t like that reputation. Even Director Steven Spielberg has had experiences here!

     Jefferson Hotel – purchased a couple of years ago, the new owners have turned it from a creaky old hotel with a haunted history into almost an amusement park for ghost and horror enthusiasts. Each room has a theme – some of them over the top.

     Jefferson also has a variety of bed and breakfasts to enjoy, and many of them have paranormal stories of their own.

     Now . . . are you ready to brave the ghosts of historic Jefferson?



Langtry’s Judge Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos

The Jersey Lilly

     Have you ever heard of a corpse being fined for carrying a concealed weapon? Or how a stunt pulled in a middle-of-nowhere town in Texas threw the New York Stock Exchange into a panic?

    If not, you might not be familiar with Judge Roy Bean’s unique version of “justice” in the Old West. It’s one of the stories my grandfather told me about the notorious lawman – and I’m using the term “lawman” pretty loosely here – that has stayed with me.

 

    When I was a kid, I found an old postcard of The Jersey Lilly on my grandfather’s desk. That’s when he told me some of the stories about Bean. I decided then and there I would see it for myself someday. It took me a l-o-n-g time, but I never forgot about it and finally got there.

     Judge Roy Bean. The name that should bring to mind the colorful history of the Wild West, might actually bring to mind the image of Paul Newman in his role playing the famous figure. O.K., well that’s not bad, but the original Bean is a pretty interesting fellow too. Known as the “Law West of the Pecos,” Bean created his own brand of justice with decisions and decrees that came out of the courtroom he called the “Jersey Lilly” inspired countless books and stories.

   But let’s back up just a little.

   The silver spike that joined the transcontinental tracks of the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Route in 1883 was driven into the ground at nearby Dead Man’s Gulch, connecting train service from New Orleans to San Francisco. The new towns that sprung up along the tracks quickly filled up with rowdies like gamblers, thieves, painted ladies and more. And chaos reigned.

   That was a big problem, since the nearest Texas Rangers were 100 miles away. They suggested the townspeople in Langtry appoint a local justice of the peace.

   In nearby Vinegarroon, a town named after a whip scorpion by the way, a man named Roy Bean ran a store out of a tent. The locals must have thought he had enough common sense to be in charge, because they appointed him the first Justice of the Peace of Pecos County (now Val Verde County). His brother Joshua, after all, was the first mayor of San Diego.

   Now, Bean wasn’t your ordinary representative of the law. His “law library” only included one book: the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas. Not that he every consulted it. In fact, pretty much the only law he represented was his own. Need an example?

   When a railroad workman fell from a high bridge over the Pecos River (and folks…that’s a l-o-n-g drop), his corpse was brought to Bean’s courthouse, since he also acted as the local coroner. A quick search of the deceased’s pockets revealed that he was carrying a pistol and $40 when he met his demise. The judge rendered a verdict of accidental death, and then promptly fined the corpse $40. You see, there was a $20 fine for concealed weapon, and Bean tacked on a burial fee of $10 and $10 in court costs. Well…guess there was no one to argue about it.

   He operated his courtroom in his saloon and chose juries from his best customers. Jurors were expected to buy a drink at each recess, which never seemed to be an issue.

   Minor offenses might bring a “fine” of having to buy a round of drinks for Bean, the jurors and anyone else in the bar.

   There was no jail in town, so prisoners awaiting trial or serving a sentence were simply chained to the only tree in Langtry.

   The governor of Texas in Austin wrote to Langtry calling attention to the fact that no funds ever came to Austin from the judge’s court proceedings. Bean’s response: “Governor, you run things there in Austin and I’ll run things here. My court never cost the state any money.” It was true. The costs of Bean’s and officer salaries were all taken from fines from the court. The matter was never addressed again.

   The judge had been on the “receiving end” of Wild West justice as well. In 1854 he courted a woman who was kidnapped and forced to marry a Mexican officer. Mustering up the gutsy bravado he later became known for, Bean confronted the officer – who promptly ordered Bean to be hanged. Luckily, the rope wasn’t taught, and the woman who was the object of his affection ran from her nearby hiding place and cut him down just in time. For the rest of his life, Bean bore rope scars around his neck.

   By the 1890s, stories of Bean’s unconventional rulings had made him nationally famous. Travelers on the train passing through Langtry often stopped to visit the broken-down saloon, where a sign proudly declared Bean to be the “Law West of the Pecos.”

   And if they didn’t PLAN to stop, they might end up getting a visit anyway. In 1890, Bean heard that railroad developer and speculator Jay Gould would be passing through Langtry on a special train. Not one to miss an opportunity, Bean flagged down the train using a danger signal and the engineer stopped assuming a bridge must be out. Bean boldy proceeded to invite Gould and his daughter to visit the saloon as his guests. The Goulds visited for two hours, causing a brief panic on the New York Stock Exchange when it was reported that Gould had been killed in a train crash.

   Regardless of being unpredictable and moody, Bean was admired by locals for bringing the area’s lawlessness under control.

   Bean and other rowdies of the day enjoyed games for fun or money in the pool hall attached to the courtroom. Although the judge’s elaborate billiards table has long been gone, the incredible metal legs of the table are still there for visitors to see. Judging by the beautiful lions’ heads and claw feet, it must have been one of the fanciest in Texas.

   The Jersey Lillie had a saloon/courtroom, billiard hall, and also served as the judge’s home. In 1896 it burned, and Bean built a small version, with a separate building called the “Opera House” as his residence.

   The building known as the “Opera House” was never an opera house. It ended up with that name because of a crush…well, more of an obsession…that Bean had with the famous English actress Lillie Langtry. It’s thought that he believed he could lure the celebrity to his hometown by getting the word out that they had an opera house. He wrote countless letters to the famous beauty hoping she would perform there.

   And yes, he also named the famous Jersey Lilly for her…but misspelled the name. A common (understandable) misconception is that the town of Langtry was named for her as well, but it was actually named for one of the construction foremen who worked for the railroad.

  Bean became ill during a trip to San Antonio, and returned to Langtry. He passed away on March 16, 1903 in the billiard room where he had spent so many of his later years. And wouldn’t you know it? Lillie Langtry finally visited the Jersey Lillie in 1904 just 10 months after he died. Judge Roy Bean is buried with his son Sam, who was killed in a gunfight, in Del Rio on what now is the grounds of a museum.

 

   The Opera House, Town Hall and Seat of Justice was donated by the Val Verde Historical Commission in 1994 and is maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation as a historic site – which wasn’t nearly this well-maintained decades ago when my grandfather visited. Visitors enter the property through a modern travel information center to visit the buildings and read about their history.

   On one section of the wall of the restored home, adobe blocks were left exposed during a restoration to show how it was built. Look closely and you might be able to spot plant fibers, horse and sheep manure and small animal bones in addition to the dirt, since the materials were probably taken from the corral that used to stand behind the saloon.

   What I wasn’t expecting when I visited was to also find an incredible Cactus Garden Interpretive Trail that winds through the property behind the travel center. Designed with stone paths, bridges, a windmill and meticulously labeled varieties of native Texas plants  – we spent almost as much time enjoying it as we did the buildings we came to see. Be sure to include enough time in your schedule to enjoy it for yourself!

   Judge Roy Bean’s famous Jersey Lilly is well worth a visit if you’re in the area, or a detour if you’re anywhere in Val Verde County. If you end up in his courtroom today, you won’t be able to order a beer – but you won’t get fined for anything, either!

   You can visit the Judge Roy Bean Museum & Langtry Travel information Center at 526 State Loop 25 in Langtry.


Alpine’s Post Office with a View of the Past

     Public art in the form of murals has become so popular in recent years, but they aren’t anything new. The next time you drive through a small town in Texas, stop into the local post office and take a look around. You might just find fine art where you’d least expect it.

     Often referred to as “WPA murals,” examples of fine artwork created to enhance public buildings were actually a gift from the government to its citizens.

     But, first thing’s first . . . the painting in Alpine wasn’t actually created as part of the Works Progress Administration. The WPA (I’m not going to drown you in details here) was created in 1935 as part of the “Second New Deal” to provide jobs for unemployed men during the depression. Most of the jobs were in construction, building roads, bridges, schools, parks, and airports. There were also artists recruited by the WPA, but they were given fairly free rein in the subjects they painted.

     The murals I’d like to introduce you to were created by the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture which was created a year earlier than the WPA. It was later called the Section of Fine Arts. The goal of this program was to “secure for the Government the best art which this country is capable of producing.” Luckily for us, this art was contracted to decorate federally owned buildings, including hundreds of post offices around the county.  That meant that everyone could enjoy fine art in their everyday lives, and the hope was that it would uplift the spirits of citizens during the hard times.

     As one writer summed it up, “One boosted paychecks, and the other boosted morale.”

     Professional artists (no students or amateurs could apply) entered competitions for Section assignments and were encouraged to visit the individual communities so their artwork would reflect local life or history. And unlike the WPA paintings, Section artists had to have their proposed artwork approved by committee and were limited in the subjects they were allowed to portray.

     One project of “The Section” placed artists in Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps to create paintings of CCC work and life, and to make safety posters and decorate camp buildings for that project. The Section even provided sculptures to be exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

     By the end of the program (brought on by World War II) 1,047 murals and 268 sculptures had been created – which is pretty darn amazing. You can still find some of them today, but many have been lost due to building restorations, demolitions or public buildings being bought by private owners.

   Anyway….

   That’s why I went looking for an example in Alpine on a recent trip through West Texas. The subject especially spoke to me, since it portrays people reading. And nothing makes the heart of someone who writes books happier than seeing someone reading!

     It was installed in 1940 inside the town’s new post office which was built by…you guessed it…the WPA.

     The building on the corner of 6th Street and Avenue E served as the town’s post office through 2000, when it became the appraisal office for Brewster County. Since that building is open to the public, you can still see the mural in person during weekday business hours. You just have to walk a bit to the left and peer around a few light fixtures and bulletin boards!

     In 1939, a Spanish-American artist Jose Moya del Pino (1891-1969) living in San Francisco entered a TDSFA competition to paint a post office mural in San Antonio. His design depicting Sam Houston and the Alamo didn’t win, but he received a consolation assignment at the new Alpine building. The sketches he submitted with a “View of Alpine” did the trick that time.

    Jose couldn’t afford to travel to Texas to take a look at the town for ideas, so he asked for suggestions from the local postmistress, who told him about the local college, cowboys and scenery. From there he went to work painting this 4’ x 12’ work in oil on Masonite. He even used a neighbor who happened to own a hat and boots as his model for the cowboy.

     When he completed the work in 1940, he accompanied it to Alpine for the installation and unveiling. The depiction of three locals relaxing with books on a hillside, with the Twin Sisters Peaks and Sul Ross State College (now University) in the background were a hit. The only question one local had was why a cowboy would be reading when the cattle were roaming unattended. (A valid question from someone who would probably never let that happen!)

     I love the style and subject matter of this painting. It portrays an idealized but beautiful vision of our state, and it was well worth the stop whether you call it a Section or WPA creation.

     Now, who’s ready to go out and hunt down a few more these treasures?


Don’t Let Lack of Cell Service Ruin Your Roadtrip!

     The further you travel into west Texas, the more you realize that any friends who warned you about spotty cell phone coverage and lack of wifi…weren’t exaggerating.

     But that can actually be a good thing! Lack of text notifications, calls or temptations to hop online “for just a sec” aren’t an issue. And you can blissfully focus your full attention on your travel partner, family or just yourself without the distractions that take up too much of our time.

     So please take my advice, and print out any maps, hotel contact and reservation information or anything else you would normally look up on your phone before you leave.

     I keep all of my road trip info in a folder sorted in order of arrival: accommodation reservations/contact numbers/addresses, maps of routes I’ll take locally once I arrive in each town, and I pre-list out my “bucket list” of places that I want to see with some back ups in case I end up with extra time, or some of my top choices don’t work out. Then I check off items as they are visited, or fold down pages as we leave one town to visit the next. I don’t always need all of the information, but it has sure saved us on a few occasions over the years, and on a recent trip to Big Bend we relied on it pretty heavily.

     The convenience of being able to ask your phone for directions is great, but I confess that I have a weakness for old fashioned maps, and experience with them can sure come in handy. If you just can’t manage working with all the papers, take screenshots of any maps and information you’ll need. As long as you keep your phone powered, you’ll be able to pull them up for reference.

     Also, be sure to give a “heads up” to any family members who may try to contact you during travel days when your cell phone might not cooperate. Land lines DO work fine, of course, so they can always go old school and call the hotel office where you are staying to leave a message. Remember when that was the only way? No? Nevermind.

     If any of the locations you are staying in are remote or a bit out-dated, you’ll want to make sure you keep any necessary items charged whenever possible. I’ve stayed in some old hotels (which I love) and found that they might only have one outlet…being used by the only light! That’s a bit of a challenge since we’ve all become so dependent on electronics.

     On our trip to west Texas, my husband and I tried out a small power pack and were very impressed. This particular portable power station from NinjaBatt was so lightweight and worked like a charm. We used it to power our computers when we were uploading and editing photos at night, and to keep our phones charged for emergencies (on the chance we could get a signal). He also used it to power some of his portable ham radio equipment and liked how reliable and easy it was to use. I think he might end up stealing it from me. (It’s model SGR-PPS300-5 if you want to check it out.) It has enough outlets to power just about anything you’re carrying along, and even has its own light.

     With a little preparation, challenges with your electronics won’t bother you a bit. And the trade off is worth it, because oh those wide open space views!


Searching for Outlaws in Sanderson

   Have you ever search for an outlaw while on a vacation? They can be found in the most unexpected places, and it might not be as dangerous as it sounds.

  If you recognize this famous photo, you might just be an Old West enthusiast like I am! It’s Butch Cassidy (bottom right), the Sundance Kid (bottom left) and the Wild Bunch, and is known as the “Fort Worth Five” photo.

   That fellow sitting in the middle – known as “The Tall Texan” – was the subject of my search in Sanderson, Texas. He was a handsome guy, but didn’t always make good choices.

   Ben Kilpatrick was born just east of San Angelo in 1874. He worked as a cowboy for several years before he became acquainted with Texas outlaws Sam and Tom Ketchum, and ended up riding with the Ketchum Gang.

   After a failed train robbery that ended in several of the members being caught, Kilpatrick fled to Robber’s Roost in Utah and joined the Wild Bunch. After some success, he and his girlfriend Laura Bullion made their way to St, Louis where they were arrested. Kilpatrick was seated to 15 years in prison for robbery, and Laura was sentence to five. After serving 31/2 years she was released, and went to Tennessee under an assumed name to make a new life.

   Kilpatrick, on the other hand, was released after 10 years and went immediately back to a life of crime. Bad decision…

   Train number 7 of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad pulled out of Del Rio on the evening of March 12, 1912. It made a brief stop for water in Dryden, but as it pulled away from the station Kilpatrick and Ole Hobek ( a friend from his prison days) jumped aboard.

   The masked robbers ordered the engineer to go to the first iron bridge east of Baxter’s Curve, about halfway to Sanderson. Once there the bandits ordered the train to stop and the passenger cars and caboose uncoupled from the engine, mail and baggage cars.

   Leaving the passengers behind, they ordered the engine across the bridge and about a mile down the tracks, where the robbers had staged horses for their getaway.

   Hobek kept a gun on the engineer while Kilpatrick went back to the baggage car with Wells Fargo Express agent David Trousdale. As they were making their way to the back of the car, Trousdale picked up a mallet from a shipment of frozen oysters and hid it in his clothing. (Frozen oysters…who would have thought THAT would be on the train?!)

   Kilpatrick was so busy filling a bag with $60,000 he didn’t see Trousdale sneak up to hit him over the head with the mallet. (Ouch!) The outlaw was killed with the one blow. Trousdale took the bandit’s gun and returned to the engine where he shot and killed Hobek just after midnight.

   With the threat ended, the engineer backed up the train, re-coupled the passenger cars and proceeded to Sanderson.

   The dead train robbers were held up for photographs, and later buried in a joint grave at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Sanderson. Trousdale, of course, was rewarded for his bravery.

   Now known as the Baxter’s Curve Train Robbery (or the Sanderson Train Robbery), it was one of the last train robberies in the state.

   In 2019, the mallet used in the incident, a photo of the dead bandits and the Wells Fargo accounts were sold at auction in Arizona for $64,900. It’s a bit ironic how close that amount is to the amount that the robber’s might have gotten away with, had there not been a quick thinking agent on board.

   The train robbers’ grave was fairly easy to locate, surrounded by a decorative wrought iron fence and gate. The concrete slab that covers the plot was most likely poured in an effort to prevent gruesome souvenir hunters from robbing the grave.

   As a taphophile, or someone who studies cemeteries, I’m always amazed at the stories that lie behind the stones if you only take time to investigate!



Desert Air Motel : Shining Again in Sanderson

   I have to tell ya…I’ve been looking forward to staying at this renovated mid-century motel all through covid shutdown! If you watched my instagram live interviews/tours of hotel properties around the state during shutdown, you’ve already seen a sneak peak of this one.

   The sign alone would have convinced me, but the rooms, gathering spaces and friendly owners and operators make this a definite addition to a road trip list.

   The Desert Air isn’t one of the made-to-look-vintage places. It was actually built in 1960 by Ervin and Melburn Grisby, who operated it until 1971. Here’a a photo of Ervin and Melburn — can’t you just picture meeting them at the motel back in the day?

   Ervin worked at the Kerr Mercantile  for 35 before building the motel. He even met his wife at the store. So it’s especially appropriate that one of the store’s (it’s now known a Z-Bar Trading Company) dinosaurs has taken up residence at the motel. But more about that in a minute… 

    Besides bringing the entire motel back to life, the new owners have added a couple of their own signature touches to the place, including custom benches outside each room where you can sit back, enjoy the sunset and kick the dirt off your shoes.

   They also restored the iconic sign and lit it with an ingenious method that avoided costly neon. She’s a beauty!

   Each of the rooms has its own special charm and is decorated with photo artwork featuring the beauty of the area. We stayed in Room 117, the Ocotillo Suite, which is the only one that has a private courtyard with table and chairs, a “cowboy tub,” view of the mountains and a T-rex…. because… why not? It was a nice place to enjoy the mornings and evenings with a cold drink and catch up on a few emails.

 

 

 

 

 

   The rooms are just retro enough to be fun, but with all the amenities you’ll expect from a modern day motel including a small fridge and microwave. And that bed felt s-o-o good after a long drive, let me tell ya!

 

   Even if you’re lucky enough to have the room with a private courtyard you won’t want to “keep to yourself” for very long, with tempting gathering areas calling your name. The center court space made it easy to socialize with the other guests, and turned into a bit of a party when everyone offered to bring items from their travel coolers to share.


   That nice shady oak tree and large rock (it’s called the “Hoot Owl Rock) in the courtyard hail back to another set of owners, Charles and Mary Beth Stavely – the second owners.

   Walk through the passage by the office to the side yard, and you’ll make the unexpected find of a school bus. The current owners have re-floored the interior of the bus and created a shaded area outside to provide other secluded spots for the guests to enjoy the outdoors.

   Why a bus? It’s a reasonable question, and the answer ties back to the third owners Merv and Gerri Degraff who left the motel to their son Scott. A musician and motorcycle enthusiast, Scott drove the bus (loaded with his gear) from Florida to the motel, parked it out back, and there it stayed. Luckily the new owners Nick, Sara and Joe took pity on the bus and fixed it up to serve a purpose for their new venture. Pretty cute, huh?

   I promised you a bit more info about the Kerr Brothers Store. Technically a hardware store, it isn’t usually something that I would add to my itinerary, but this one is definitely unique. Yes, it’s probably the BIGGEST hardware store you’ll sever see, but it also has, well . . .

   Yup! Dinosaurs. And every type of metal “yard art” that you can think of and a LOT that you can’t! One step inside the door will make you stop in your tracks to try to take it in, but just take your time and wander. You’ll find things that make you laugh, things you might actually consider taking home, and things that will have you gaping in confusion. Even if you’re only driving through Sanderson and not staying, this is well worth the stop.

   It was eventually time to check out of the Desert Air and get back on the road, but we’ll definitely be back.

   There was one more touch that I appreciated while getting ready to leave. Each room is provided with an envelope with the name of the member of the housekeeping staff, in case the guest would like to leave them a gratuity. To me it shows how much the owners appreciate their staff, and let’s be honest…it’s so easy in the rush of packing to forget this gesture. The envelope was a nice reminder and made it convenient as well.

   Next stop: Alpine and a couple of surrounding towns. You won’t want to miss riding along to see what we found!

 

Ozona – The Biggest Little Town in the World

Biggest little town in the world, indeed!

     Ozona is the only community in Crockett County which is the size of Delaware. Yep, the only one! It’s about an hour southwest of San Angelo, 398 miles from Houston and 347 miles from El Paso. Which makes it a pretty good jumping-off point for a lot of directions.

     But before you zoom through, consider stopping for some of the unique things that Ozona has to offer. We scheduled an extra night on our trip to Big Bend to give us time to wander around and explore . . .and to give the ol’ accelerator-foot a break.


     If you follow my blog or instagram account, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a sucker for historic courthouse buildings. I was happy to finally see this one in person.

     The 1902 Second Empire courthouse of Crockett County – named after the legendary Davy Crockett – is the centerpiece of town. Designed by Oscar Ruffini, one of a pair of proliferate brother architects who kept busy populating Texas with their creations. Oscar also designed the Sutton County Courthouse, Tom Green County Courthouse and Ozona High School, and his brother Frederick Ernst designed the Concho County Courthouse, Bastrop County Courthouse, former Blanco County Courthouse (now restored) and the Millet Opera House in Austin. 

     The courthouse was made from stone quarried on nearby property owned by the Crouch and Meyer families, and cost a whopping $30,000. In 1909 an arc light was added to the steeple to signal the sheriff (the Batman beacon comes to mind!) and guide travelers to town.

     It was far more than a courthouse for Ozona and surrounding communities though, and served as a social center for cowboy dances, roundup celebrations, Christmas trees and box suppers (which reminds me of a particular scene from the musical Oklahoma!).  

     If the bull’s eye or “ox eye” circular moldings the mansard roof look like they’re missing something…they are! They were originally intended as a place for clock faces that were never installed. At one point in the past it bothered the locals enough to paint clocks in the features. When the courthouse was recently restored it was decided to leave them as is. 

     A memorial statue of Davy Crockett stands nearby on the square. Placed on its base in 1938, it was carved from two slabs of granite weighing nearly 20 tons (well, after all – he WAS a heavyweight of Texas history!), and is inscribed with Crockett’s motto, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.” Still seems like sound advice.

     “The Tie that Binds” is an emotional bronze stands at the center of the square just a few strides away from Davy to remind visitors of the perseverance of their pioneer ancestors. At life-and-a-quarter size, it makes quite an impression close up!

     Just across the street is the former Hotel Ozona (not to be confused with the former Ozona Hotel . . . they could have used a bit more imagination, evidently). The three-story mission style inn was built in 1927 to attract tourists along the Old Spanish Trail. See more of my photos of this abandoned beauty and find out more about the OST here.

    I really appreciate visitors centers that are more than a room filled with pamphlets, and the Ozona Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center (505 15th Street) is definitely worth a stop (even if it’s just to see this cocky granite Texas sporting a Stetson). The building is bright and welcoming, and the staff are versed in numerous local and area attractions that might peak your interest.

     Across the parking lot is the Crockett County Interpretive Trail (free to visit) showcasing native plants that can be found within 100 miles of Ozona. The short trail (like a small park) has over 200 plants representing over 75 species, each identified by an inscribed stone. We were lucky to stop by in spring when several of the plants were showing off their blooms, but the display would be fascinating year round.  Botanists and gardening fans will get a kick out of this detailed brochure of the exhibit.

     Off-roaders will definitely want to venture out to the Escondido Draw Recreational Area, a 3,500 acre, 110 mile trail for all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and 4-wheel drives.

     After driving all day and seeing a bit of town, we were ready to sit down for a good meal, the The Hitching Post Steakhouse (1301 Old Highway 290) came highly recommended. Actually, on some days of the week like we arrived on it’s pretty much the only game in town, but that’s just fine.

     We were a bit confused when we pulled into the parking lot filled with at least two dozen fire trucks and rescue vehicles from all over Texas until we realized there was a firemen’s convention in town. But we definitely took that as a good sign, because let’s be honest – firemen know their food!

    The western theme, come-as-you-are restaurant probably hasn’t been redecorated much in the last few decades, which the faded photos of Old West Outlaws and cowhide on the wall, heavy wooden club chairs and indoor/outdoor carpeting will attest to – but you won’t care a bit once your food arrives. If you’re looking for good food at reasonable prices, The Hitching Post fits the bill.

     A smoking room on one side has pool tables and the bar, and the other side of the building has non-smoking seating. An outdoor patio is also a good option for dining on fair weather days.

     Thirsty for something stronger than tea? Be forewarned that the restaurant charges a $5 club fee to “join” to order alcohol.

     Since we hadn’t worked up big appetites we decided to split a couple of appetizers, and settled on marinated cube steaks and 1/2 order of fried mushrooms. The portions were generous and deliciously seasoned. Thank heaven the waitress suggested we choose a half order of mushrooms, since a full order would have fed half the firemen in the room.

     I’ll definitely go back to try the chicken fried steak next time I’m in town. The fact that they’re open until 11 p.m. makes it easy if one of your day trips from Ozona runs a bit longer than expected. 

     If you have a bit more time during your visit to Ozona, you might want to explore:

  • Crockett County Museum

  • Fort Lancaster State Historic Site in Sheffield

  • Caverns of Sonora (34 miles)

     Accommodations: We enjoyed our stay at the Holiday Inn Express Hotels & Suites. The staff was friendly and the rooms were lovely and clean. Just be aware that if you’re booking because you find a great rate, there might be unexpected charged added at checkout. Our $111 rate (which was one of the selling points that helped us decide to make Ozona a stop)— ended up costing about $165 which is a heck of a difference and more expensive than any of the other stays on our 10-day trip! 



Hotel Ozona- Nothing But Vacancies

     While taking photos of the county courthouse in Ozona, I turned around to see the remains of Hotel Ozona, and couldn’t resist getting a closer look. Obviously once a beautiful hotel and it was easy to imagine it surrounded by cars and people carrying in their finest leather luggage for a stay along a road trip adventure.

     Ozona is a fairly small town, but its position along the Old Spanish Trail would have brought a lot of visitors a few decades ago.

     The Old Spanish Trail (also known as OST to many Texans), was a 2,750 mile long roadway that reached from ocean to ocean – St. Augustine, Florida to San Diego California. The headquarters for the project was in San Antonio, where an executive committee of prominent businessmen met weekly at the Gunter Hotel from 1915 until it was completed in the 1920s.

     Perfectly timed for a nation that was enjoying a newfound enjoyment of “auto touring,” hotels and restaurants began appearing long the route just as they did later on Route 66. If traveled from one end to the other, tourists would cross eight states and 67 counties along the Southern United States!

     Although promoters for the OST claimed that it followed the route used by Spanish Conquistadors 400 years earlier, there wasn’t actually a continuous trail from Florida to California that long ago.

     The three-story Hotel Ozona was built in 1927 for $150,000  from reinforce concrete, hollow tile and stucco, to provide stylish accommodations for the influx of tourists coming through the area. The hotel was a busy center of social life for the community for the next twenty years as well, hosting conventions, luncheons, bridge clubs, organization meetings. wedding receptions and more. The Comanche Ramblers, Fort Stockton’s string band, played for old time dances in the ballroom.

     But the party didn’t last forever. In 1948 notices appeared in Texas newspapers advertising the 41-room hotel and its newly equipped kitchen for sale for a mere $8,500, due to the dissolution of a partnership. Travelers along the OST lightened in favor of other, newer highways resulting in many of the once-thriving businesses along its path to close down.

     For whatever reason, the Hotel Ozona closed its doors, and never reopened. A peek in the few windows that aren’t boarded up don’t reveal many distinctively original design features other than the from desk, stairway and wrought iron railings.

     The old neon sign touting air-conditioned rooms still stands tall, minus most of the neon. 

     So she sits and wait for someone to come to her rescue. With the revival of so many older properties in recent years, I’m crossing my fingers that her patience will pay off.

Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park

     There are two things that are guaranteed to bring a smile to a Texan’s face: The Lone Star Flag and bluebonnets. And as anyone who travels knows, the flag and outline of the state of Texas are symbols recognized around the world. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

     The Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park in Conroe is an “outdoor museum” dedicated to sharing part of the story of the Texas Revolution. Its location is especially appropriate because Montgomery County is the birthplace of the Lone Star Flag that was voted and settled on by the Texas congress in 1839.

     At the entrance to the display is a five-foot tall granite pedestal topped by a bronze bust of Dr. Charles B. Stewart, who is credited with creating the design for our beloved State Flag of Texas. The artist, Craig Campobella, created the image from the only surviving photograph –and it was a blurry one – of the doctor.

     Stewart also served as an interpreter between General Sam Houston and General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and was Texas’ first Secretary of State.

     Follow the path from the Stewart memorial up to the flag park, and you’ll be greeted by another bronze artwork, the 14-foot bronze statue standing in the center of the circle of flags. Named The Texian (a fighter in the Texas Revolution), the charging subject is brandishing the version of the Lone Star flag that appeared in the Republic of Texas three years after the Battle of San Jacinto.

     And symbolism? It’s packed full!

     13 rocks under the Texan’s left foot represent the 13-day long siege at the Alamo. And imagine how long it took the artist to make 354 marks on the rocks to memorialize each soldier massacred at Goliad.

     Look for clues in the soldier’s clothing, too. 18 buttons on his shirt, coat and pants stand for the number of minutes the fighting went on at San Jacinto. His red sash is a signature of the Texas Army whose members tied them on the right hip when every other army tied them on the left.

     View his tie and sash from the five o’clock position and you’ll see that they incorporate the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, referring to the 5 p.m. hour on April 21, 1836 when the Battle of San Jacinto came to an end.

     The nine Texians who died at San Jacinto are remembered with nine stones under the right boot.

This time of year, the mound that The Texian stands atop is planted in brilliant bluebonnets, making it especially delightful to see.

    Lift your gaze and you’ll see a circle of flags flying overhead. Flags were used to communicate the spirit and identities of the brave people who battled for Texas independence. And although the six national flags that have flown over Texas are more commonly known, many more have been carried in the Lone Star State. In fact, when the organizers of the park decided to fly 13 different flags to symbolize the 13 colonies of Texas at the time of the 13-day siege at the Alamo, they had to make their choices from over 50 flags!

     The story behind each of these 13 flags is displayed on a bronze plaque at the base of its 35-foot flagpole.

Coahuila Y Tejas 1821-1836

1824 Tri-color Alamo Flag 1835-1836

Texas Navy Flag 1836

Alabama Red Rovers 1835-1836

New Orleans Grays 1835-1836

Gonzales Flag 1835 Come and Take It

Sarah Dodson’s Tri-color Flag 1835

Troutman Lone Star Flag 1836

Goliad Flag, Severed Arm, Bloody Sword 1836


San Jacinto Liberty Flag 1836

First Flag of the Republic De Zavala Flag 1836

Second Flag of the Republic Burnet Flag 1836

Lone Star Flag 1839

     You’ll find the Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park adjacent to the Montgomery County Library, at 104 I-45 North in Conroe. The park is free to visit and open seven days a week.

 

Does Bigfoot Hang Out in East Texas?

     For my 11th birthday, my parents took a group of my friends and I to see a new movie: “The Legend of Boggy Creek- A True Story.”

     If you need a good giggle, click here to see the original movie trailer.

     It was a new scary movie (called a docu-drama) about a monster that lived in the swamps of Arkansas. (I know, I know…”swamps in Arkansas?”) Basically portrayed as a Bigfoot-like creature, this guy attacked and killed people. I remember not being very scared (even back then it took quite a bit to scare me), but my friends screamed and clutched each other through the entire thing. I don’t remember if I noticed that it was painfully obvious that this “Bigfoot” was a guy in an ape suit, complete with cutout eyes.

     But as bad as it was, the movie holds a fun spot in my memories because, hey…it was my birthday.

     Just a few months ago I was speaking at a paranormal convention in Jefferson (about Victorian funeral customs). One of the gentlemen who had a booth in the vendor hall carried just about everything Bigfoot-themed you could think of: dolls, bumper stickers, books, key chains and more. I resisted as long as I could, but I finally politely asked him what connection Bigfoot had with East Texas.

     He looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and then asked if I had ever heard of a movie called “Legend of Boggy Creek.”

     I smiled and replied that, well yes as a matter of fact I remembered that movie.

     That’s when he told me that although the movie was set in Arkansas, those events actually happened in East Texas, where Bigfoot has been seen for years.

     A couple of other attendees gathered to tell me that OF COURSE it was about East Texas, and the movie had even been filmed there.

     Well, huh. Who knew?

     I thanked them for the information, and sat myself down for a visit with Mr. Google. But all I really had to do was walk across the street from the convention area to see a bronze statue of Bigfoot.

     The next day, I drove to Uncertain, which is appropriately named for anything spooky, and recognized the same type of swampy, cypress-filled waterways and run-down wooden shacks that appeared in the movie.

     I didn’t get to meet Bigfoot, but maybe he rests during the day. Wherever he was, I found Uncertain to be a magical place, and can’t wait to visit again to go kayaking or on an airboat ride. It’s an ecological wonderland. But I’ll have to remember to keep an eye out for the Big Guy in the treeline.

     Who wants to join me?