Saturday, November 1, 2008

Texas Forever--Day 1--Chapter 2


Papa came to Texas early on. He wasn’t in the “Old Three Hundred”—the very first settlers brought by Stephen Austin, but he wasn’t far behind. I’m not sure what prompted him. Moving to Texas was all the rage then—especially if you were being hounded by creditors, had gotten into trouble, or had gotten somebody else in trouble—if you know what I mean. I don’t think it was any of that. He was young and adventurous, and Texas promised a lot of opportunity to young, adventurous young men, though it was hell on horses and women. It was indeed a rough country, but Papa was up to the challenge—in more ways than one.

He had grown up in the Deep South, the second son on a South Carolina cotton plantation. He knew his older brother would get the place—if there was anything left of it after the boll weevils, Grandpa’s gambling, and the harshness of growing cotton. Besides, as I said, he was young and adventurous, so he and “Joe” his “personal manservant”—that is, a slave that had been given him as a child—caught a ship to New Orleans, then traveled to Texas on horseback.

Now, the fact is that the new settlers in Texas—or “Tejas”—could not own slaves and had to be Catholic. The second part was no problem, as religion hadn’t meant much to Papa, and what little he had gotten in South Carolina had been of the Episcopalian variety, so converting was no big deal. As far as the slavery issue was concerned, well, it was pretty much just ignored. Joe had been given to Papa when they were both children and they were more like friends anyway—friends where one is obviously dominant and gives all the orders, and the other says “Yassuh” all the time, and does it.

Oh, one other thing. When you settled in Texas, you swore allegiance to Mexico, leaving behind, supposedly, your fealty to the United States.

Anyway, Papa and Joe decided to get a good look at the land before settling down. Late one afternoon on the way to Bexar—or San Antonio as it came to be called—they stopped in Gonzales. There was some sort of celebration going on. One thing about the Mexicans—they love to party, and will find almost any reason to do so. The “fiesta” was going to include a “baile” or dance, so Papa decided he would go. Joe, of course, had to find his own amusements.

Now, Papa was not a big man, but he was strong and he was handsome. Up until this time he always said that he was afraid of nothing, and nothing could make him weak…but something happened that night.

I forgot to tell you that Papa’s name was Francis Marion Rutledge Miles. Not that that means anything, except that he was named for “The Swamp Fox” of American Revolution fame, and his mama was one of the South Carolina Rutledges—whoever they were. And he went by Frank. (Frank and Joe were always getting into scrapes and getting themselves out. They were a couple of hardy boys!)

So back at the “baile”…the music was new to Papa and he was having a little trouble with his confidence when a beautiful senorita came to his aid. His always swore that he didn’t act like a bad dancer on purpose—that he was really unfamiliar with the style and the customs—but nobody before or since had ever seen him miss a step. The senorita guided the handsome new “Texican” through a few of the more intricate moves, before he suggested they sit one out.

He had picked up a bit of Spanish by this time, and she knew a very little bit—poquito—of English, but apparently there was no language barrier. Her flashing blue eyes shone out from her olive skin and took in this bold Americano. He used to tell us later “I didn’t know what she said, but I sure liked the way she said it!”

Not to belabor the point, Papa decided he didn’t need to go to Bexar. All he ever wanted was right there in Gonzales. He and the senorita fell in love—in spite of all the differences. By the way, the young lady’s name was Angela Maria Archibeque-Vasquez. She was descended from Spanish conquistadors and French explorers, and her father held some sort of office with the Mexican government. Papa used to call her “Mi Angelita”, my little angel. I just called her Mamá.

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