Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Life and Times of Ralph and Rachel Krause, Part I

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Human Interest

     To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, runs historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition features the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  The Paper Trail News is making the stories available to its readers so that you won’t miss any of these amazing stories.

 

     Ralph and Rachel Krause, owners of Pick-a-Rib, a very popular eatery in Flour Bluff from 1949 to 1980, offered more to the community than those famous fruit bars and barbecue beef sandwiches. The restaurant sat on Lexington Boulevard, where Packard Tire is today. According to Ralph Krause in a 1987 Flour Bluff Sun interview, “Before the building was destroyed, it was the oldest building on South Padre Island Drive. That building withstood all the hurricanes, and the man who tore it down said it was kind of stubborn when they tried to push it down.” This building and the two people who turned it into perhaps the most memorable eating establishment in the history of Flour Bluff were of the same spirit.

Pick-a-Rib located at 1510 Lexington Blvd. (now 9935 SPID) in 1949 (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)

      In the same interview, Ralph told the reporter, “When we went into the business, there wasn’t any development west, north, or south of Menger School at Six Points. From there out there wasn’t anything. There were cotton and onion patches from there on out to the Naval Air Station. There was only one service station out there.”

      Rachel added, “We didn’t have a bank out here. We had to go all the way to First State Bank at Six Points.”

     Ralph Krause passed away in 2011, but his wife Rachel still resides in the home just a block from where the restaurant once stood. She recalls how hard but how rewarding the work of a restaurateur could be. “When Ralph started the Pick-a-Rib, he didn’t know anything about running a restaurant. When he was working at NAS as an electrician’s helper with his father-in-law, he heard about the swing bridge going in to Padre Island. He got the idea that he would buy land on Lexington and put in a barbecue stand,” said Rachel. And, that’s what he did.

     “I didn’t even know how to cook a hamburger!” Ralph told the Flour Bluff Sun reporter. However, that did not stop Krause from becoming a successful businessman who gave back to his community at every turn. This native Pennsylvanian had a keen understanding of what it meant to serve others and work hard, characteristics of his generation. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 to serve his country. Then, he went to work for Knolle Dairy Farm and Corpus Christi Army Depot. While working hard to offer great food and excellent service to his customers at Pick-a-Rib, Ralph somehow found the time and energy to serve people on the base at his Sandy Cove Café and on the beach with his ice cream truck. During this time, Ralph also served on the Flour Bluff School Board and City Board of Adjustments, as a Goodwill Ambassador to Mexico and Mason Shriner 32nd degree, and even as President of South Texas Bee Keeper Association. Having a wife who also had a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn the business certainly must have helped him as he strove to make Flour Bluff a better place for all who came after him.

FBHS Principal James Gibson and Ralph Krause, U.S. Ambassadors to Mexico on band trip to Veracruz, Mexico, in 1981 (El Dictamen photo, March 11, 1981)


Rachel, like many women in the 1950s, married young and became a true helpmate to her husband and a devoted mother to their children, Charles, David, and Deborah. Within a few weeks after they married, Rachel went to visit Ralph at the restaurant. He was cooking, and there was a problem; the dishwasher had walked out. “Why don’t you put on an apron and help me out?” he asked his young bride.

David, Deborah, and Charles Krause (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)

“I was there from then on,” said Rachel. “I started in the sink. I bused tables and waited tables. Ralph taught me to cook, and he even talked me into baking when I was expecting. I learned to run the register and handle the money. He taught me how to do it all.” Having a wife as capable as Rachel was a true asset since Ralph was called to be active in his community, and someone needed to know what he knew about the business. Ralph worked the day shift, and Rachel took nights.

The famous Budweiser Clydesdales stop in at Pick a Rib, early 1950s (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)

     Rachel interrupted the interview to ask her son, Charles, to sharpen a shovel for her. When he asked why, she simply said, “Well, I use it a lot.” This is not a woman who is afraid to do manual labor. Rachel went on to talk about the day her husband wanted her to learn to bake. “Ralph had just gotten the contract to run the Sandy Cove Cafeteria on NAS, and he told me that I was going to have to take over the baking. I did not want to bake. I was used to working the night shift,” said Rachel. “He told me that the first thing I had to do was be at Pick-a-Rib at 4:30 in the morning! I fought it the whole way!”

     However, Ralph told her she would have to do it so that he could run the Sandy Cove, so she did it. “You see that big bowl down there?” Rachel asked pointing at a large stainless-steel mixing bowl. “He gave me that bowl and a recipe for the donuts. It called for so much flour, so much sugar, and all, but then it said to ‘stir till warm.’ So, I took that whisk, and I was stirring and stirring and stirring trying to stir till warm, and I was making him so mad,” Rachel said with a laugh. “He said, ‘Put the blankety blank bowl on the stove!’ I was probably twenty or a little older, but I did what he said. That was my first day as the baker.”

     Tasty donuts and giant cinnamon rolls that covered a plate were known far and wide, but it was the famous fruit bars that so many people remember even today. “John Meadows came by the house recently, and I gave him some of the fruit bars to be nice. He held on to them like dear life. He told me he was hiding them from his wife,” Rachel said with a smile. “My son has tried to get me to bake them and sell them again, but it costs too much to make them with the price of natural gas.”

Rachel Krause is still baking those famous Pick-a-Rib fruit bars. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)


Pick-a-Rib was the place where the men gathered for coffee and some of those wonderful baked goods each morning before heading to work. Both military and civilian personnel frequented the restaurant, as well. “Sailors used to come in and say, ‘Look at the bottom of the glass! There’s sand!’” said Rachel. “It’s because we were using well water in those days. But, they always said it was the best water. We were on well water until the city finally brought water to Flour Bluff in the early sixties, I think. There was a humongous tank near where the Stripes store is at Flour Bluff Drive and SPID. We paid the water bill here in the Bluff.”

The sailors were just some of the customers who loved dropping in at Pick-a-Rib. “Mr. Harris came into the Pick-a-Rib every morning for a cup of coffee,” said Rachel. “Now, I had been bugging Ralph to take me and a couple of the waitresses to Big Shell to go beach combing. One morning when Mr. Harris was having his coffee, Ralph asked him what he’d charge to take me about 50 miles down the beach. Mr. Harris looked up, got a serious look on his face, and asked, ‘You mean leave her there?’ Everybody started laughing!” she said chuckling at the memory.

     That was the way it was for the Krause’s. They created a place where people came together to visit, poke a little fun, and learn about what was going on in each other’s lives. It was a place for friends and families and community groups. But, Ralph, a man who could make three businesses work at once and who eventually became a master beekeeper and avid cattleman, did something that might have been missed by average person who dropped in for a barbecue sandwich or a fruit bar or a home-cooked meal. Just as he taught his wife Rachel how to do everything in the business, he also taught his employees a few invaluable lessons.

Rachel told of a day when a new dishwasher showed up late to work. Ralph didn’t get angry though. When the fellow arrived and started to go to work, Ralph said, “No, go on home, and we’ll try this again tomorrow.” The man looked at him and left.

     “Ralph washed all those dishes himself that day,” said Rachel.

     The next day, the man showed up late again. Ralph looked at him and said, “No, go on home, and we’ll try this again tomorrow.”
On the third day the man arrived on time, and Ralph put him to work. “Ralph taught all his workers something,” said Rachel. “Sometimes it was how to cook or clean. Sometimes it was how to be a good employee.”

 

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read Part II of Rachel Krause’s story. To share her story with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.
The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past. Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Life and Times of Butch Roper, Part II

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history

 

     When Butch Roper was growing up in Flour Bluff, life was simpler in some ways and more difficult in others.  He recalls what it was like playing football in what the local kids called “Grass Bur Stadium,” the field where the boys went to battle in the name of their school.

     “In junior high, we had a really good team.  Our coach was Johnny Johnson, and he would take us to games in his car,” said Butch.  “Some of our guys were fast, real fast.  When other teams would ask us why we were so fast, we’d tell them it was because we lived in grass bur country and played barefoot, so we had to run fast to keep those burs from sticking in our feet,” Butch said with a grin.

     “I was the only person with shoes, but I didn’t have them long.  My daddy bought me a pair, and I tried to wear them in a game, but I just could not wear those things.  So, I took them off and put them on the sidelines and went back to playing barefoot.  When I went back to get them after the game, somebody had stolen the damned things!”

    At home, Butch was like lots of kids in the 1950s.  “We didn’t have a tv.  My grandparents had a Victrola that played those big heavy records, and we crank it and listen to that.  The first television I remember seeing was in the Humble Camp.  One or two of the families had one.  It was mostly just snow and static, but we thought that was the coolest thing.  There was only one station, but I don’t remember what we watched,” he said.  “Back then we just listened to the radio mostly.  My favorite radio show was ‘Lone Ranger.’  I listened to it all the time.  It was great!  There was a scary program called ‘Inner Sanctum.’  When it came on there was a creaking door, and it really scared me, but I listened to it anyway,” said Butch.

     Butch’s memories of his school days took him down many paths.  “I was in the first group of kids who went to HEB Camp in 1954.  I was fourteen.  We boys rolled a boulder down the hill that the camp wrote HEB on.  I went back again in high school as a counselor.  I was a fun counselor!” Butch said with a grin.

     Then Butch took on a serious look.  “I remember a boy named James McCutcheon coming to Flour Bluff. He came to school on a blue Navy bus, like all the kids from the base. It was 1957, and he was the first black kid in the school.  That poor guy caught it.  His dad was in the service, and he had to go to an all-white school with a bunch of country kids and fishermen’s kids who weren’t kind to him,” said Butch.  “And, he wasn’t like the rest of us who started in first grade and went all the way to twelfth grade together.  I felt bad for him.”

     Racial tensions ran high across the nation in those days, and they sometimes found their way into Flour Bluff and onto the basketball court.  “About a year after James came to the Bluff, we were playing West Oso, an all-black team, at our gym.  Back then a tie-ball meant a jump ball.  I had to jump against one of the West Oso kids, and he hit me right in the nose with his fist.  It bloodied my nose, and things started getting out of hand,” said Butch.  “Then, a little guy from West Oso went up for a layup, and one of the Bluff boys grabbed him and rammed him right into the stage.  The ref called the game over and sent everybody home.  It’s just the way it was then.”

Butch, like most kids, spent his days outdoors.  “We didn’t have air conditioning like today.  We had indoor plumbing in our new house, but baths were cold unless we heated water to pour in the tub,” said Butch.   “The Ritter house had a well, and it’s still right out back.  At one time there was a windmill, but it’s been gone a long time.  I can still hit water about thirty feet down when I drop a line into the well, but we don’t use it anymore.”

     Butch talked about the old two-story house where his grandparents lived and in which they had a post office.  “It wasn’t too far from where I lived.  All the Ritters lived near each other on Ritter land. Uncle Ben and Aunt Opal, Fred and Ellen Gallagher, and Harry and Alice Grim lived on the land.  Alice and Ellen are Ritters, and they ran the bait stand on the old Don Patricio Causeway before.  Uncle Ben Ritter helped build it,” said Butch.

Ritter girls at Don Patricio Causeway bait stand (Photo from Kathy Orrell collection)

     “By the time I was about 18, no one lived in the old house any longer.  One night my brother-in-law and I sneaked over there and went in the old place after it was moved to the end of Don Patricio Road,” he said.  “Somebody had broken into it and thrown all the old books and post cards all over, so we gathered up all we could carry and took them home.  If we had not gotten what we did, we’d have nothing from the place.  It wasn’t too long after that when someone got in there, started a fire, and burned it down.  I wish I had gone upstairs, but I was still too scared of that ghost!”

     The efforts of the two young men provided a glimpse into the past because of the books and memorabilia they saved.  Butch Roper has rare post cards with the Brighton postmark, a hat brought from Prussia by his great grandfather George Hugo Ritter, dozens of English and German books from the mid-1800s, family documents regarding personal and real property, and even a few textbooks from Flour Bluff Schools.  “I know some people call all this stuff junk, but I think it’s pretty neat,” said Butch.

 

Prussian hat worn by George Hugo Ritter, ca. 1845 (Butch Roper collection)

 

WWII Era documents (Butch Roper collection)

 

Flour Bluff Schools textbooks, early 1920s, with names of Nola Adams, Jessie Duncan, and Howard Duncan (Butch Roper collection)

 

     Butch has memories of the Roper side of his family, too.  “They were also in the dairy business.  My grandpa Simeon Ray Canfield Roper was a real cowboy.  I heard that they came from somewhere in West Texas and settled in Flour Bluff near the Ritters when they all lived where the base is now,” said Butch.  “At some point, he started his dairy business in Sandia, next to Knolle Farms.  I loved going to that general store to get candy.  At one time, Sandia – which means ‘watermelon’ – was a hopping little place.  The railroad went through it, and they shipped a lot of watermelon out of there.  But, he came back to Flour Bluff.”

Simeon Roper (Butch Roper collection)

 

     When Butch graduated from Flour Bluff, he didn’t have a car.  “We had a family car.  I didn’t get a car until my freshman year at the University of Corpus Christi.  My dad told me I could go to school or quit and go to work to get a car.  I quit and got a new car,” said Butch.  “I went to work at American Smelting and Refining Company on Up River Road.  We made zinc blocks that were shipped out by train.  I didn’t like that job because you had to mess with acid.  You could shake your clothes out, and they’d just fall apart.  I decided I wanted to go back to college, so I went to Del Mar for two years.  All I wanted to do was play basketball.  I didn’t want to study.  I played city league, AAU.  I even played for CP&L one year and Sun Tide another year.”

     Butch remembered another job for a completely different reason.  “When I was working for J. I. Haley Oil Field Services, they sent us down to Riviera.  We were putting in pipeline when we heard about John F. Kennedy getting killed.  Everybody was so upset.”

     Butch sometimes took part time work with his brother-in-law Bob Beauregard who was married to his younger sister Cheryl.  “I never commercial fished, but I fished for my brother-in-law, Bob,” said Butch.  “He had a whole fleet of shrimp boats.  One of them had a real tall mast on it.  That’s the one we took out when we heard that they were catching a lot of shrimp in Nueces Bay.  It’s really shallow and had a lot of oyster reefs.”

     “On these shrimp boats, there as a small net called a try-net.  It was dropped over the side to test the waters.  It you pulled it up, and it had quite a few shrimp, then that’s where you’d drop the big net.  It kept you from dragging around a big and wasting time when they’re weren’t any shrimp,” he said.

     “On that day in particular, the try-net got a crab trap caught in it.  I was the deckhand – as usual – so I was the one who had to untangle the net from the trap.  That’s what I was doing when BOOM! Something blew by my ear and into the water, making a little atomic bomb looking cloud,” Butch said.

 “I jumped and yelled at Bob, ‘What in the heck happened?’ Bob explained that he didn’t know what happened, but his marine radio was out and the mast was gone!” he said.

     “Then we saw it.  The mast of the boat had hit the power line that led to Portland,” said Butch.  “That’s when Bob got the bright idea to call CP&L and demand they pay for his marine radio.  So, when we got back, he got them on the phone.  When he told them what happened, the guy on the other end told him that they had been looking for the guy who knocked out all the power in Portland.  That’s when Bob hung up.”

     “It all happened so fast that we never got the chance to be scared, but looking back, we realized we were lucky to be alive.  All that electricity went down into the motor and burned everything up and then kicked the hatch up in the air.  I guess the fiberglass hull saved us from being electrocuted,” said Butch.  “This wasn’t long after Harry Grabowske got electrocuted pulling his boat down Laguna Shores.  He touched a power line, and it killed him.”

     Living in Flour Bluff has left Butch with many memories, some good, some not so good, and some just humorous.  He has fond memories of going to HEB Camp in Leakey just up the road from Garner State Park where the Humble Camp families went on vacation.  He is still in awe of going to Ouray, Colorado, on school buses with kids he’d spent his life with playing along the Laguna Madre and going to battle on the fields and in the gyms of South Texas.  And, like so many along the Coastal Bend, he remembers the hurricanes that came to visit.  “I wasn’t alive for the hurricanes of 1916, 1919, and 1933, but I remember my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents talking about them.  They didn’t even name them at that time,” said Butch.  “I do remember Carla in 1961, Beulah in 1967, Celia in 1970, Allen in 1980, and Harvey in 2017.  And, we’ve always bounced back.”

     In his later years, Butch has kept the past alive through his collection of memorabilia and his telling of stories.  When his body that had served him so well as a young man gave out, he took up art.  Just like his people who came before him, Butch is a survivor who still finds joy in living and in spending time with his wife Marge, his family, and his friends and in giving those who know him a tale to remember.

Original drawing by Butch Roper

____________________________________________________________________________

Be sure to pick up the next edition of Texas Shoreline News to read the story of Ralph and Rachel Krause, owners of Pick-a-Rib.  To share Butch’s story with others online or read other articles about Flour Bluff history, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

 

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

Please follow and like us:

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Life and Times of Butch Roper, Part I

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history, Personal History

The Life and Times of James “Butch” Roper:  Part I

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Paper Trail News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.  These stories can be found in print in The Texas Shoreline News.

 

     James “Butch” Roper, born October 16, 1940, is a direct descendent of George Hugo Ritter, a German immigrant who settled Flour Bluff at the start of the Ropes Boom in 1890.  Ritter’s son, Erich George, born in 1893, married Myrtle Mae Watson, whose family was one of the first families in Flour Bluff, as well.  They had three children, one of whom was Alice Ritter, Butch’s mother. Alice married James “Mickey” Roper and had three children:  Deanna, Butch, and Cheryl.  Butch spent his boyhood days helping his grandfather, Erich George, with the chickens, the crops, and the cattle while his father worked for Humble Oil at the refinery on Graham Road.  Butch Roper thoroughly enjoys entertaining people with his memories of what it was like growing up in Flour Bluff.

The Roper children, ca. 1940s (Photo from Butch Roper collection)

     Butch’s earliest memory is of a ghost in his grandparents’ house that sat on Red Lake just south of Graham Road and west of Laguna Shores Road.

     “I was coming out of the field with my grandfather.  I fell out of the truck and broke my collarbone,” recalls Roper.  “Back then, they strapped you in a harness for a broken collarbone.  They put me in the upstairs room of that old two-story house.  I was scared to death!  The story was that there was a ghost in that house and that she walked the stairs at night.  There I was, a little kid strapped in that harness in a big old spooky house,” said Roper.

     “To make it even scarier, it was when they used to make everybody in Flour Bluff turn all their lights out at night so the German submarines wouldn’t see where we were,” he said.  “Every time those old stairs would creak, I’d think that ghost was coming to get me!” Roper laughed.

Flour Bluff Sun photo (1980s edition)

     “By the time I came along, the house was old and run down.  Originally, it was a really nice house, painted and everything.  It was built by a lady named Mrs. Shade, and she sold it to my grandfather.  Before that, they lived out where the Navy base is.  It was called the Grass Place,” said Roper.  “It had giant sand dunes and lots of grass.  When the Navy came in, they ran all those people out of there.  They said they were squatters and that they didn’t own the land they had been working all those years.”

     According to an October 22, 1941, Caller-Times article, Roper’s memory is correct.  The whole eviction process was a complicated matter, that sent the whole case to Judge James Allred’s court multiple times to decide who actually owned property and who didn’t.  The article states, “The sum of $229,402 remains on deposit in the registry of Federal Court here awaiting payment to land owners at Flour Bluff who were evicted when the government took over 2,050 acres in July 1940, for construction of the Naval Air Station.”

     Roper told of how most people in Flour Bluff at that time either lived at the Grass Place or far down Laguna Shores where the Vannoy family lived.  “Everything else was mostly brush except where people had cleared to build their houses,” said Roper.  “The Ritters owned everything from Laguna Shores to Waldron Road and from Graham to Don Patricio, which included Red Lake.  That lake was so salty that ducks never came to it.”  This includes the property where the “little refinery” sits on Graham Road.

      “They had a long-term lease with Humble Oil.  Since then, the lease has changed hands two or three times,” said Roper.

     “My dad worked at that refinery for 32 years.  First, we lived in the two-story Ritter home; then we moved over to the house that sat next to this one,” said Roper pointing over his shoulder.  “The pilings and the well are still there.  The house came from Sandia, where we had a dairy farm.  They moved it all the way out here and put it on Waldron Road.  At that time, Waldron was just a dirt trail until the Navy came in and improved the road and named it Waldron.”

     “My great grandfather had the contract to build roads in Flour Bluff.  They built them out of clay and oyster shell,” Butch recalls.  “Flour Bluff Drive was not a main road.  It was the road where we’d take our girlfriends to go parking because nobody else drove it.  The Roschers lived off that road back where the windmill still stands on Roscher Road and Caribbean.  They owned all that property.  I used to go with my grandfather to get-togethers at the Roscher place.  They were German, and he was German, so they visited all the time, but I don’t remember them speaking German to each other.”

     “My grandfather was pretty smart man,” said Roper as he explained how his grandfather was able to grow lots of vegetables in the poor Flour Bluff soil.  “He raised chickens to sell.  When he built the chicken pens, he made the floors out of wire.  When the chickens did their business, it would fall through the wire.  Then, we’d shovel up the droppings, put it in a little wagon, and take it out to the field to fertilize the crops.  It must have worked because he was a successful truck farmer.”

     Roper’s grandfather also ran cattle on the Encinal Peninsula.  “He leased land from people all over Flour Bluff for his cattle, the way Calvin Self does today,” Roper said.  “We’d take them to auction in Robstown to sell them.”

     Roper recalled how much he enjoyed being part of the Humble Camp when his dad worked at the refinery.  “My family spent a lot of time with the Humble Camp people.  It was kind of like a big family.  They had barbecues and square dances on the weekends.  The adults played Canasta or domino games like 42 and 84.  That was a grown-up thing.  The kids just played and got into a little mischief when the parents weren’t watching,” Roper said with a smile.

 

Humble Camp men (Photo courtesy of Butch Roper)

     “When we lived at Humble Camp down by the South Gate of NAS, we’d go to Hawley’s Drug Store.  It sat right outside the gate,” said Roper.  “When I was older, in the 1960s, a plane crashed right next to his place.  I was working part time for Moore Service on the base then fueling planes, and I had just filled that plane up.  It went up and straight back down, killing everybody in the plane when it burned up.”

Caller-Times photo, South Gate (ca. 1950s)

      Butch started school at Flour Bluff when he was seven.  “I went to school at the old school on Waldron and Purdue.  It was just a long hall with a gym,” recalls Butch.  “We started sports in that old gym.  Back then it was just reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Mr. Wranosky was the superintendent.  He was a task master.  He had the look about him that you didn’t want to mess with him,” he remembers.

Flour Bluff Superintendent Ernest J. Wranosky (FBHS Yearbook Photo)

     “Every year he went hunting in Colorado, and that’s when we started going to Ouray for our senior trip.  That was a big deal for a little flat-lander kid,” said Butch with a grin.  “I was friends with his son, Bud.  We played baseball together on the first baseball team Flour Bluff ever had. My best friend, Eddie Farrias, whose dad Lee worked the causeway toll booth, was our coach.   Jim Coffman and his mom Bernie Arnold, who owned A & H Sporting Goods sponsored our team.  I remember rolling into the little surrounding towns in their company truck.  On the side it said, ‘Another load of fresh bait.’  That got us a few laughs,” Butch said.  “If we played in Flour Bluff, we played on the field that was on Waldron where Whataburger sits now.”

Photo of first baseball team (Bernie Arnold collection)

     Butch remembers a great deal about school, especially sports.  He played all the sports, but really enjoyed basketball.  “We played basketball all the time.  Sometimes we played in the Humble Camp.  Sometimes we’d sneak into the gym at school.  Mr. Wranosky finally gave us a key because he said he was tired of us breaking into the gym,” Butch said.  “That’s how we got so good.  We were short, so we had to be good shooters.”

     According to a Caller-Times article when Butch was in high school, he averaged 15 to 16 points a game.  Coach Bud Gray was three inches taller than his tallest player.  Butch and his best friend Eddie were regular starters.  Reporter Jim McKone, author of the article, “Flour Bluff ‘Shorties’ Beat 14 of 19 Taller Foes,” wrote: “Short but fast, the Flour Bluff Hornets have several dangerous scorers.  They average three or four inches below six feet.  But 5-10 Butch Roper and 5-4 Eddie Farrias are accomplished shooters.”  All those times sneaking into the Flour Bluff gym evidently paid off.

     “There wasn’t much to do in Flour Bluff for a kid other than play sports.  We had a wreck hall in the Humble Camp where we had gatherings with our families.  Sometimes we went to the show on the base.  It was a dime to get in.  We hunted and fished, too,” Butch said.

     “We duck hunted all the time.  Granny would fix duck.  I didn’t like duck, but she had a way of cooking it to make it taste better,” said Butch.  “When we went duck hunting, we’d take our row boat and put in at the Humble docks.  Then, we’d row out into the water and build a blind out of Sweet Bay bush trees right on the boat, and we’d hunt out of the boat.  It worked great!”

     “I fished all the time with a fishing pole and usually fished with my grandfather.  We spent lots of time together – and caught lots of fish,” Butch said proudly.

Butch’s catch  (Photo from Butch Roper collection)

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read Part II of Butch Roper’s story.  To share his story with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

Please follow and like us:

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town that Almost Was: Life and Times of Bobbie Kimbrell, Part II

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff in print, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Bobbie Kimbrell still lives in Flour Bluff (Photo by Shirley Thornton)

     “It was a mass of oil wells back then,” Bobbie Kimbrell said, speaking of Flour Bluff in the late thirties and early forties.  “Right where SPID crosses Waldron.  That’s where most of the oil derricks were.  I was surprised HEB built where it did,” he said.

     “One of the wells right at the causeway blew out and burned for a long time.  When I was living on North Beach in 1941, it was still burning, and I could see the flare from all the way over there,” Kimbrell said.  He explained that the Navy had to help put it out because it was affecting the training of the pilots.  “The student pilots flew from Corpus Christi to San Antonio and back.  They didn’t even need their compass or anything.  They could see the light all the way from San Antonio.  It was killing their flying with instruments, so the Navy had the fire put out.”

      Bobbie Kimbrell is one of six children, four girls (Carmelita, twins Annette and Jeanette, and Virginia) and two boys (Acie and Bobbie), most of whom are gone. He speaks with a great deal of pride when talking about his younger sister Virginia, now 84, who worked for the Corpus Christi Fire Department under Chief John Carlisle.  “She did everything.  She served as dispatcher, made out the payroll, took care of insurance, and handled grievances.  The chief didn’t even have to be there,” he chuckled.

     After graduating Flour Bluff High School in 1947, Kimbrell continued his work as a commercial fisherman.  He even did some roughnecking.  In 1949, he went into the United States Army during the Korean Conflict.  Though he spent about 6 months in Okinawa, most of his training took place at Ft. Hood.  In 1951, he got out of the army and returned to fishing.  He met and married Helen Garcia in 1960.  “She was from San Benito, Texas, and was Rachel Krause’s aunt.  She was her aunt but was at least 20 years younger.  Rachel was married to Ralph Krause, who owned Pick-a-Rib in Flour Bluff,” said Kimbrell.

     Bobbie and Helen had three daughters, Rosemary Kimbrell Leatherwood, Edith Ella Kimbrell Stephenson, and Laura Lee Kimbrell Trueblood.  “I have lots of grandkids and even a few great grandkids,” said Kimbrell.  “All my girls still live in Corpus Christi.”  One has to wonder if Bobbie’s daughters knew just how tough their dad’s life had been trying to make a living as a commercial fisherman, something he did until 1999 when he was nearly 70 years old.

Photo courtesy of Bobbie Kimbrell

The following is a story written by Bobbie Kimbrell about a memory he has of fishing with his dad:

     It was the summer of 1944.  My dad and I lived in a little camp on the shoreline of the lagoon where Glenoak runs into Laguna Shores.  We would go rod and reel fishing nearly every morning.  We got up about an hour before the crack of dawn, had coffee, and ate breakfast.  Then we got in the 16-foot skiff and tried to make it to the Humble Channel before the sun came up.

     The night before we had used a minnow seine to catch about fifty shrimp, using the Coleman lantern for light.  As I rowed the boat, Dad stood in the stern and helped me along with the push pole.  We had a 50-hook trotline set out on a sand bar beside the channel, and we noticed in one section the main line was under water.  Dad picked it up, and there was a 5-foot alligator gar on it! We decided to leave it on until we finished fishing because it would have taken a long time to tie it down and release it. 

     We tied up to the 4 X 4 channel marker just as the sun was about an inch over the horizon of Padre Island.  We were on the east side of the channel so that our backs would be toward the sun.  After the sun was completely up, it was bright and red as blood with orange streaks above.  Dad said, “Turn around and look at the sun.  It’s going to be a hot one today.”

     We put a handful of the shrimp in a little bucket of water so that we wouldn’t have to get one out of the wooden bait box we had tied alongside.  Dad caught a nice trout on his first cast. It was about a 3-pounder.  While I strung it up on the stringer, Dad had already caught another trout and then started catching one nearly every cast.  It kept me busy just stringing them up.  Most of the trout were about 12 to 14 inches long.  Dad didn’t catch anything the next couple of casts, so he told me to start fishing and see if I could catch one.  One of the shrimp was nearly dead, so instead of hooking it through the head, I just wormed it on, threw it out, and caught one the first cast.

     The fishing had slowed down, but both of us would catch one every once in a while.  About that time, a wade fisherman waded out from the shore.  At that time, a lot of fishermen waded down beside the channel.  When the wade fisherman saw the trotline, he went over and picked up the main line.  When that alligator gar started flushing around, it scared the man so bad that he hollered for my dad to come and get him.  Dad told the man that the gar was hooked, so he didn’t have to worry about it, but the man was still scared and took off for the shoreline.  He got in his car and left.

     By that time, we had run out of shrimp, having caught about 30 trout.  So, Dad put on a small Dixie silver spoon and would catch one every once in a while.  I asked if I could put on a spoon, but he said, “No, your line is pretty weak, and if you hook one, you might lose the spoon.”  After a while, he said, “Go ahead and put that big No. 7 Johnson spoon on because I don’t ever use it anyway.”

     After a while, I hooked a sure ‘nough good one!  Its head came clear out of the water trying to throw the spoon loose.  With the sun shining into its open mouth, it was a brilliant, golden color.  It went back down and made a run for it as I burnt both thumbs a little trying to thumb it down since my reel didn’t have a drag on it.  After a while, I got it coming back toward the boat with Dad standing by with the dip net.  Just as Dad stooped over to net it, it just threw the hook and swam off right before our eyes.

     “Damn it!” Dad said.  “I bet that sow would have weighed 10 pounds!” 

     Later I got to thinking that at least I hadn’t lost the spoon, and I didn’t know if Dad would have lived it down if I had caught the biggest fish.  About that time where the channel ended into shallow water, the water started whirling up, and the fish whole end of the channel turned muddy.  Dad said, “Jerk those fish on the stringer back into the boat.  That might be a shark.”

     Whatever it was, we could see part of its back as it was nearing the boat.  I asked Dad if I should stomp on the bottom of the boat and scare it off.  Dad said, “Hell, no!  It might turn over the boat.” Anyway, it swam on off, much to our satisfaction.  We both got to thinking later on that it was a manatee because we saw no fins on it, and it was known that sometimes manatees come up the channels. 

     By then the wind had got up a little from the southeast, so we untied and hoisted the sail.  I steered as Dad gutted and gilled the trout.  We put the fish in a No. 2 washtub, took them up to the Nelson fish pick up station at the old Don Patricio Causeway and sold them.  We had 40 pounds at 15 cents per pound.

     Tom Nelson, the fish dealer, said, “Thanks for the fish.  Try to catch more tomorrow if you can because the housewives are buying all of them as soon as they come in.”  It was during WWII, and meat was rationed, so the housewives were substituting fish for meat. 

     I forgot to mention that we released the gar, and it swam off.  There was no other fish on the trotline that we had baited with 1-inch squares of baby crib rubber sheeting.

     When asked who the best fisherman was the he ever met, he did not say it was his dad. Kimbrell thought about it a bit and then answered.  “Talking through the years, it had to be Wally Grabowske.  He always caught the most.  Alvin Barta and Lacy Smith were right behind him though,” said Kimbrell.

     “Dad quit fishing and opened the Red Dot Bait Stand with Sherm Hawley. He made better money at the bait stand than he did fishing.  He sold it later to Freddy Edgeman, who had a promoter from San Antonio,” said Kimbrell.  He remembered the first bait stand being on the Intracoastal near where Snoopy’s sits today.  “The city demolished it, but I never knew why,” he said.  “Then it was moved to Humble Channel.  Edgeman ran it until he died.”

     Kimbrell recalled other bits of information about Flour Bluff and its people.

  • Gas wells were dug on Pita Island to power the Barney Davis plant.
  • The Curriers were the first Hispanic family he can remember in Flour Bluff. Their dad was the swing bridge operator, and they lived on Lakeside near the causeway.
  • Nicholson’s Grocery store was owned by John Nicholson and sat where Barton Street Pub is today.
  • Killian’s Grocery Store was on Waldron, north of what is now South Padre Island Drive. Constable Jewell Ross had a liquor store next to Killian’s.  (Note:  According to John Nicholson, grandson of the Nicholson Grocery owner and current owner of Barton Street Pub, “The constable’s office was located in the old building that now houses The Alibi lounge at 948 Waldron. Jewel Ross was the constable. There was a liquor store on the left side and the constable’s office on the right side. When not doing constable business, or when a liquor customer drove up, he was selling and operating Ross’s liquor store. If you look at the building, you can tell it was two units. This was in the 50’s.”)
  • Dunn’s Crossing was the shallow crossing of the lagoon where Yorktown runs into Laguna Shores. “I always thought there should be a historical marker there,” said Kimbrell.

     Bobbie Kimbrell still lives in Flour Bluff and can often be seen with his friends having coffee in Whataburger talking about the good ol’ days.  “I’ve been through some pretty scary fishing times.  If a storm blew in or an unexpected Norther hit, I sometimes thought I wouldn’t make it.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read some of Bobbie Kimbrell’s articles about the history of Flour Bluff.  Past articles can be accessed at the website, as well.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

Please follow and like us:

To Sprinkle – Or Not To Sprinkle (A Glimpse into Corpus Christi’s Past)

Corpus Christi, Front Page, History, Local history
First State Bank, Corpus Christi, Texas, corner of Mesquite and Schatzel,           ca. 1900 (Source: TexGenWeb Project)

     When a citizen of Corpus Christi is asked about nagging problems in the city, it is almost guaranteed that street maintenance will come up.  They hold the Street Operations Department to its mission, which states it is “to manage, maintain, and develop the City’s street system. This is accomplished by maintaining street pavement; operating and maintaining traffic signals, signs and markings; and planning and developing the street system.”  At least it is clear that the City is responsible for upkeep of city thoroughfares.  However, in 1898, just 52 years after the incorporation of Corpus Christi, the mayor and city council were at odds about whether or not the city should take an active role in tending to the streets.

People’s Street, Corpus Christi, Texas, ca. 1900 (Source: TexGenWeb Project)

      The following article from the January 28, 1959, Corpus Christi Caller-Times relates the kinds of issues facing the Mayor Oscar C. Lovenskiold and the City Council of 1898.

“In 1898 dust was a serious problem in a Corpus Christi that had no pavements.  In May a special meeting of the City Council was called to devise ways and means of sprinkling streets.

“Captain C. C. Heath of the Board of Trade, fore-runner of the Chamber of Commerce, advocated street sprinkling.  The water company agreed to furnish the water free.  Citizens offered to provide a sprinkling wagon if the city would permit its two horses to be used and provide a driver.  An ordinance was passed putting this arrangement into effect.  But the mayor vetoed the ordinance.

“He raised many objections.  He said street sprinkling was not one of the purposes for which the city was chartered; that it would be unfair because all streets could not be sprinkled equally; that the city couldn’t afford street sprinkling; and that it was an unnecessary luxury.  

“The city council passed the ordinance over the mayor’s veto.”

     It seems that our problem is not a new one, nor is it one that city councils of the past and present have failed to discuss.  If we couldn’t get it under control in the early days when only a few dirt roads existed…

Don Patricio Road, Flour Bluff, ca. 2014 (Picture by SevenTwelve Photography)

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

Please follow and like us:

Lou Diamond Phillips to Appear at Voices of South Texas Kick-Off Event in Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history, Military
Photo by Shirley Thornton

Corpus Christi, Texas- The past and the present will collide at the Voices of South Texas event that kicks off on Friday, November 3, 2017 at Heritage Park.

The event festivities will kick off at 6:00 p.m. at Heritage Park (1581 N. Chaparral St.) Friday, November 3, 2017, with a special guest appearance by Corpus Christi native and actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Phillips is best known for his role of Ritchie Valens in the drama film La Bamba and his role in the Academy-Award nominated movie Stand and Deliver.

Lou Diamond Phillips, graduate of Flour Bluff High School and renowned film star (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

     Over 30 storytellers, re-enactors and experts on local history will tell the story of many who were laid to rest at Old Bayview Cemetery. The cemetery will feature walking tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 4, 2017. The walking tours chronicle the history of the region. The cemetery includes veterans from the War of 1812 through the Spanish American War.

     “The Voices of South Texas events are an excellent way for us to celebrate our history here in Corpus Christi,” said Jay Ellington, Director of the Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Department. “I hope our community and visitors alike will take advantage of this wonderful celebration of our past.”

    Old Bayview Cemetery was created by Colonel Hitchcock during the occupation of Zachary Taylor’s forces in 1845 and the first U.S. military cemetery in Texas. It is located at Ramirez Street and Padre (IH-37) next to Coles High School.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

     La Retama Library will showcase lectures from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 4, where guest lecturers will provide a history of the Coastal Bend.

     Voices of South Texas is sponsored by Humanities Texas, Friends of Old Bayview Cemetery, the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, the Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Department, Corpus Christi Public Libraries, and the City of Corpus Christi. Humanities Texas is the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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Memoirs of Addie Mae Ritter Miller, Part 4

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history, Personal History

This article contains the final part of the memoirs of Addie Mae Ritter Miller, as told to her daughter, Rosanne Miller Redman in 2003. Addie Mae was the granddaughter of George Hugo Ritter, the man who settled Flour Bluff in 1890.  Addie Mae, who died  November 25, 2009, paints a personal picture of a time gone by in Flour Bluff and nearby areas in her memoirs.  It was her desire to leave the story of her life in early Flour Bluff and Corpus Christi to her descendants.   The rest of Addie Mae’s memories appear in earlier articles on this website.  

 

     Herbert and I were married on October 2, 1936, in the rectory of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  He was not a Catholic, so we couldn’t marry in the church.  Mama and Daddy were there, and Alice and Mickey stood up for us.  It was supposed to be a small affair with only Alice and Mickey there, but Mama had to be there, and she unknowingly invited a few other guests.  I always regretted not having the Millers there.  Mama also planned a small reception.  When Herbert got there, I thought he was going to leave me at the altar, but he didn’t.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Miller Orrell

 

     Alice and Mickey married in 1937 at the same place.  She was working at Weil Brothers and then became pregnant and had to quit.  I took over her job (which had been my job first).  Herbert and I lived in town for a short while until I finished working there.  We then moved to Flour Bluff so Herbert could fish.  We lived in a small house that used to be Ben and Opal’s.  They had lived in it for years until they built their house on Don Patricio Road.  When it became empty, I asked Grandma Ritter if I could have it, and she said yes (Remember, I was a favorite of hers).  That probably caused some strife in the Ritter clan.  Herbert had a job driving the school bus for Flour Bluff School District. He was the first driver for the school.  They furnished him with a small car, also.  That job and fishing kept food on the table.

 

     We spent our time playing bridge and dominoes and going to dances.  A lot of time was spent with Alice and Mickey.  I have many happy memories of those times.  They had started their family, and we enjoyed their children, Deana, Butch, and Cheryl, so much!  We were late in starting our family, so I guess they filled a void for us.

Photo courtesy of Butch Roper

     We always had good friends and lots of family around – Aunt Opal and Uncle Ben and their family, Aunt Alice and uncle Harry and their family, Cattie and Lewis and their family, and Annie.  Aunt Jo always had a special place in our hearts.  Then there was Velma and JW and their five kids.  They always came to Corpus in the summer, and we enjoyed going to the beach and having meals with them.  They were our big city relatives.  Melba and Jim Porter were always there to help us out when needed.  Herbert used to drop me, Kathy, and Karen off at their house on Saturdays for lunch.  Clyde and Howard were there also.  They were the fishermen of the family and kept us supplied with fresh fish.  We shared holiday meals with Alice and family and Melba, Jim, Clyde, and Howard.  We continued many traditions started by our own parents.  Thanksgiving was usually spent with Herbert’s family.  Christmas Eve was always spent with Alice and her family.  We exchanged gifts and at Mexican food and finger food.  A big turkey meal was served on Christmas Day with Herbert’s family again.

     My mother died in 1955 of liver problems.  I missed her terribly.  Life was not the same without her.  She only got to spend a short time with her grandchildren.  My father died in 1964 of a heart attack.  I also missed him terribly.

Myrtle Watson Ritter, right  (Picture courtesy of Kathy Miller Orrell)

     Our family was finally started with the birth of our first daughter, Mary Kathryn, on October 28, 1945, at Spohn Hospital.  (Miss Lena was gone.)  She was named for Grandma Ritter.  Karen Elizabeth – named for Grandma Miller – arrived on December 25, 1946.  We were having Christmas dinner at the Miller’s when I decided I hat to go to the hospital.  The doctor kept saying to me, “You are not going to have this baby on Christmas, are you?”  Well, I surprised him and the whole family!  Our family was complete with the birth of Rosanne Louise – named after Mama – on August 14, 1956.

    I suffered some ill health after Rosanne’s birth.  Kathy and Karen were only 10 and 9, but they had to help out a lot around the house.  I was always puny during those years, but I got better.

Miller family (Photo courtesy of Rosanne Miller Redman)

     Herbert stared working as a carpenter after being a bus driver.  We never had a lot of money, but we always managed to squeeze by.  We lived in the same house all those years.  Before I had the girls, I would work at Weil Brothers when they needed me.  I had to ride a bus to town.  As a carpenter, Herbert worked on building the Naval Air Station.  He also worked on the Harbor Bridge.  He continued with odd jobs until his retirement.  I started working at Flour Bluff Schools in 1962.  At first, I worked in the Primary Library and then moved to the curriculum building.  At some point, the curriculum building closed, and I was moved to the new Primary School until my retirement in 1982.

Herbert Miller, right (Photo courtesy of Kathy Miller Orrell)

     Herbert died on November 30, 1974, of lung cancer.  I would describe my relationship with him as stormy, but we did love each other, and I felt a great emptiness when he was gone.  The rest of my life has been spent enjoying retirement.  I got to travel because of Rosie; until then, I had never left the state of Texas.  I traveled to Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.  I made my first quilt while staying with her for the birth of Nathan.  I made many more quilts after that, and I am still making quilts to this day, although I have slowed down a bit.  With the impending birth of two great granddaughters, I just completed two more baby quilts.  I’m sure I am not done because there are more great grandchildren expected.

Addie Mae did the blocks when she was just 6 years old and then finished the quilt in 1980 when she began quilting again. (Photo and story about quilt courtesy of Rosanne Miller Redman)

     I lived in Flour Bluff for 80 years before moving in with Karen and Mike.  Since 1997, we have lived in New Braunfels, Seguin, and now Schertz.  I continue to share their home.  I am the last one left in my generation.  I have lost my parents and both my sister and brother. Aunt Opal and Melba are still with us, and I have a few cousins left.  I do enjoy getting together with them and talking about old times.  I wanted to share my stories with all of you in hopes our family legacy will continue.  It is good to know where you come from.  I pray that my parents can look down upon all of you and see what a wonderful family they helped create.  They would be proud!

 

Kathy married Kenneth Nelson, and they had one daughter, Kimberly Janean.  Kenny was killed in 1973, and Kathy then married Douglas Orrell.  They have one son, Eric Douglas.  Kim married Troy Perkins, and they have two children, Kathryn Victoria and Collin Andrew.

Karen married Michael Mosel, and they have two children, Michael Kreg and Kelly Marie.  Michael married Cindy Jones.  They are expecting a daughter in January. Kelly married Robert Talavera.

Rosanne married Michael Redman, and they have three children, Jennifer Michelle, Stephanie Nicole, and Nathan William.  Jennifer married Michael Robertson, and they have one son, Michael Grady, and are expecting a daughter in December.  Stephanie married David Flowers.

The family tree continues to grow….

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

Please follow and like us:

The Constable’s Corner:  Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville

Front Page, History, Law Enforcement

Hello everyone!  We have had a busy first half of 2017 here at Pct. 2, from uniform changes (going back to Stetson hats), policy changes, continuing peace officer education classes, upgrades to our technology systems, new web site, new Facebook page, the day-to day services my department provides, our community policing programs, and our hugely successful “Pray for Police” wristband giveaway. All of these successes were not possible without the dedication of my officers, administrative staff, and the ever-growing support I receive each day from the citizens of Pct. 2.  Thank you from all of us at NCCO Pct. 2.

The Constable’s Corner

Yes, it has been a while since my last publication.  This month’s focus is on the Texas State Prison at Huntsville, Texas.

       A few months ago, I attended Constable’s School at Sam Houston State University.  During that week, which was crammed full of lectures and training, I got a tour by a Captain of the Guards of the prison.  The University is located right next to the prison and right in the heart of town.  I got to see the Walls Unit, Death Row, Educational Unit, Recreational Unit, and the Leather Shop.  Most interesting to me was the stories – the old stories – which is where I begin in this month’s Corner.

     The prison is officially the Huntsville Unit.  The prison’s red brick walls led to the nickname “Walls Unit”. The prison’s first inmates arrived in October 1849.  Originally, women in the Texas Prison System were housed in the Huntsville Unit.  Beginning in 1883, women were housed in the Johnson Farm, a privately owned cotton plantation near Huntsville.  The Huntsville Penitentiary was the only prison in the eleven Confederate states still standing at the end of the Civil War, at which time it entered a dramatic period of its history. The increase in lawlessness that accompanied the end of the war resulted in more persons being sentenced to prison.

Famous Escape Attempts from the Walls Unit 

       In January 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow hid guns in the field for their friends, Joe Palmer and Ray Hamilton.  These guns led to the death of J. Crowson, the first correctional officer killed in the line of duty.  The prisoners who were caught received the death penalty for the killing of Officer Crowson.  For Bonnie and Clyde, this was the last straw for them.  This eventually resulted in their deaths in a hail of automatic gunfire in a Louisiana ambush.

Old Sparky (Photo provided by Mitchell Clark)

     Whitey Walker was the leader of probably the most successful bank robber in Texas during the 1930’s, the Whitey Walker Gang.  They were much better than Bonnie and Clyde because Whitey subscribed to the John Dillinger school on robbing banks……..plan, plan, and plan.  The Barrow Gang had no planning, no escapes routes planned.  They just walked in, robbed the bank, and left.  The problem was that most of the time the banks they robbed had no money due to the Great Depression.

Various devices used to restrain inmates over the years (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Clark)

     While in the Walls Unit, Whitey Walker wanted his dear friend, Blackie Thompson, to be saved from the electric chair.  This also included death row inmates Joe Palmer and Raymond Hamilton of Bonnie and Clyde fame.  Walker had guns smuggled into the prison with the help of a guard.  A huge gunfight ensued between the guards, and the convicts as the prisoners were climbing a ladder trying to get over the wall.  Walker was killed by Guard Roberts.  The three prisoners made it over the Wall to an awaiting getaway vehicle. 

     In 1974, the prison was the site of an eleven-day siege, one of the longest hostage-taking sieges in United States history. Three armed inmates (Fred Carrasco, Ignacio Cuevas, and Rudy Dominguez) held several hostages in the education department. The ring leader, Carrasco, had been a porter in the chapel. Cuevas usually worked in the inmate dining hall. Ten hostages were employees of the prison system; two were educators, and one was a guard.  Even the prison chaplain, Catholic priest Joseph O’Brien and four prisoners were taken hostage. On the final day, the inmates tried to escape using chalkboards and hostages as shields.  Dominquez was killed in the attempt. Carrasco killed Elizabeth Beseda, a teacher, then shot himself.  Julia Standley, the librarian, was also killed that day. Ignacio Cuevas was executed on May 23, 1991, for Standley’s murder. I am told by jailers from the Sheriff Johnny Mitchell days that Carrasco was a prisoner at the Nueces County jail and was transferred from Corpus Christi to Huntsville.

     One of my favorite stories is that of Dr. B.W. Jones. Dr. Jones was an intellect, a professor of psychology with an I.Q. higher than the sun and a true photographic memory. In 1955, Dr. Jones so impressed the warden with his background and intellect, he was immediately hired as a lieutenant of the guard, rose to captain, and eventually became Assistant Warden.  Captain Jones set out to change the way prisoners were treated, instituting a rewards for good behavior system, sensitivity training, and treating prisoners in a way they were not used to.  Capt. Jones was a big guy, six feet and 300 pounds, and he would get in any inmate’s face – even when threatened with violence – and calm the situation.  The convicts couldn’t figure him out, and his guards thought he was either very brave or crazy.

     Then a funny thing happened.  A prisoner was reading in Life Magazine about a man named Ferdinand Waldo Demara.  He showed the picture to the guard and said, “Doesn’t this guy look just like Cap’n.   Jones?”  The Warden confronted Jones about the picture.  He denied it, went into a tirade, gathered his belongings, left, and was never to be seen in Texas again.

Ferdinand Waldo Demara (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

     Demara was one of the biggest impostors the world had ever known.  He could speak nine languages and could read and remember 5 books a night.  He impersonated a surgeon (doing actual surgery), a monk, psychologist, lawyer, teacher, minister, dean at college, engineer, zoologist and – yes – a warden in the Texas Prison at Huntsville.

Other Notable Huntsville Inmates

John Wesley Hardin:  One of the most notorious outlaws and killers in Texas; said to have killed 42 men;  sent to Huntsville in 1877 for 25 years but was released in 1894 and was subsequently gunned down by the Constable in El Paso in 1896.

Duane “Dog” Chapman:   Served 18 months for a murder in 1976; well known for his top hit reality show, “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

David Crosby:   Sentenced to 5 years for drugs and weapons in 1983; began serving in 1986 and was paroled 5 months later; famed lead singer for rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Semper Fi,

Constable Mitchell Clark

Learn all about your constable by going to his new web site: ConstableMitchellClark.net and FaceBook @ Nueces County Constable Precinct 2

 

References:

Time Magazine, 1974

Wikipedia, “Huntsville”

The Wall, Patrick McDonnan

Texas Prison Museum

Constable Clark is the duly elected official for the Pct. 2 Constable’s Office. He has been involved in the Nueces County Constable operations since 1981 and holds a Masters Peace Officers license from the State of Texas. He is a licensed attorney in Texas and Tennessee and in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a former Marine with assignments as a military policeman with a specialty in corrections and as highly prestigious Marine Corps Drill Instructor @ MCRD San Diego. Constable Clark knows the law.

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Memoirs of Addie Mae Ritter Miller, Part 3

Flour Bluff, History, Local history, Personal History

This article contains the third part of the memoirs of Addie Mae Ritter Miller, as told to her daughter, Rosanne Miller Redman in 2003. Addie Mae was the granddaughter of George Hugo Ritter, the man who settled Flour Bluff in 1890.  Addie Mae, who died  November 25, 2009, paints a personal picture of a time gone by in Flour Bluff and nearby areas in her memoirs.  It was her desire to leave the story of her life in early Flour Bluff and Corpus Christi to her descendants.   The rest of Addie Mae’s memories will appear in later articles.

     For fun, the grownup would have dances at their homes.  All of the furniture in the living room would be moved, and we would all dance. We danced to music played on the phonograph.  Later on, we would all meet at the schoolhouse for dances.  There would be a small band playing–with a guitar and violin.  It was so much fun!  The last few weddings in the family have reminded me of those days–everyone, especially the children, dancing and having a good time.

     Mama and Daddy also play dominoes (Forty-two) a lot.  Their closest friends and neighbors, the Robertsons, were usually partners.  They rented a farm next to us on the bay, and then we all moved to Flour Bluff.  uncle Ben married a Robertson, our Aunt Opal.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Orrell

     I attended school in Flour Bluff until I was 12 years old.  I like school and did very well.  We either walked to school or rode with the Roberson kids in an old jalopy.  I don’t have many memories of school except that I continued to love reading.  The farm in Flour Bluff had a row of chinaberry trees.  I’d pick one and be lost for the day.

     Incarnate Word Academy was located in downtown Corpus.  I went to town to attend IWA until I graduated in 1933 at the age of 14!  I boarded there.  Aunt Jo was a novice and a teacher there.  The first year I lived with a friend of Mama’s, Mrs. McAllister.  She lived about 10 blocks away from the school.  It was called Ms. Mac’s house.  I went home on the weekends.  I’m sure I was homesick.  The second year I lived at the convent.  The third floor was our dormitory.  There was one big room, and each boarder had a bed with a curtain around it and a stand for personal items.  Our clothes were kept separately.  I had two special friends from Kingsville–Bernice and Laura.

 

     We didn’t go to church on a regular basis when I was growing up.  Alice and I were seven and nine when we made our First Communion. We were baptized right before that.  Grandma Ritter planned the whole thing.  Uncle Ben would take us to town for instructions.  There was one church downtown for whites, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Sacred Heart was the Mexican church, and there was another for the colored people. Grandma had a niece, Daisy, who lived in town and had a rooming house.  On Saturday night, Grandma would take me and Alice to Cousin Daisy’s to spend the night.  We would all go to confession and then get up on Sunday morning and go to church.  We only did this occasionally since it was too far too hard to get there.  That was the basis for my religious beliefs today.

Photo from Diocese of Corpus Christi website, ca. 1924

     We celebrated birthdays at home with a cake and a little family party.  Christmas was always a big deal though.  We would go out in the brush a day or two before Christmas and cut our tree; it was a Sweet Bay tree because they stayed green in the winter.  It was decorated with ornaments and tinsel.  Small candle holders were clipped on the tree branches to hold the candles to light the tree.  That must have been dangerous.  We opened our presents on Christmas Eve.  Mama and Daddy always saw to it that we had nice presents.  On Christmas Day, we would have duck and stuffing.  Mama would bake for days and make lots of goodies for the holidays.  We always had dinner with relatives, either at their house or ours.

     I learned to sew when I was 4 years old and have been at it ever since.   I made a cap for my baby brother; I can’t imagine what it must have looked like.  Mama was a good teacher, and she instilled in me a love for sewing.  I have made many, many things over the years.  After my retirement, I took up quilting and have enjoyed many years of doing that.

Don Patricio Causeway Bait Stand, 1935 (Photo courtesy of Kathy Orrell)

     After graduating high school, I stayed in town and boarded with Alice and Mary Roper.  I worked at Weil Brothers as a bookkeeper. We had a small apartment.  Alice was attending IWA at that time.  I worked to pay her $5 monthly tuition.  My total salary was about $16.  Mary was a beauty operator.  I also tried that occupation, but it wasn’t that lucrative.  We lived in town for a few years and then moved home. I started working at a bait stand on the Causeway in Flour Bluff where I met a handsome man named Herbert Miller.  He was quite a bit older that me, but I became very interested in him.  He was a fisherman along with his brothers, Clyde and Howard.  At some point, I had boarded with the Millers while working at Weil Brothers.

Weil Brothers Grocery Corpus Christi Caller advertisement, March 24, 1920

Related stories: Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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Memoirs of Addie Mae Ritter Miller: Part 1

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Personal History
Addie Mae Ritter Miller, c. 2003

This article contains the first part of the memoirs of Addie Mae Ritter Miller, as told to her daughter, Rosanne Miller Redman in 2003.   Addie Mae was the granddaughter of George Hugo Ritter, the man who settled Flour Bluff in 1890.  Addie Mae, who died  November 25, 2009, paints a personal picture of a time gone by in Flour Bluff and nearby areas in her memoirs.  It was her desire to leave the story of her life in early Flour Bluff and Corpus Christi to her descendants.   The rest of Addie Mae’s memories will appear in later articles. (All pictures were provided by the family of Addie Mae Ritter Miller.)

     On November 13, 1917, I was born to Myrtle Mae Louise Watson and Eric George Ritter.  My birthplace was Brighton, Texas, which was the lower part of Flour Bluff at that time.  Our doctor was one of the few in Corpus who owned a car.  He drove out to Brighton and spent the night.  The Ritter family had a practical nurse who came and stayed with the women when they gave birth.  She was an old German lady and would stay with the family for two weeks.  In those days the mother had to stay in bed for two weeks before resuming her duties.  The nurse, Miss Lena, was there along with the doctor.  I remember the story told to me about my birth.  Miss Lena kept waking the doctor up and saying, “Come on, Doctor, it’s twins!”  Of course, that wasn’t true.

     My only sister, Alice Lena (named after Miss Lena), was born on October 12, 1919, during the 1919 Storm.  Mama and Daddy started to town along with me.  I don’t know if they knew a storm was coming or not.  They had an old truck.  I guess Mama was having trouble, so they stopped at a stranger’s house and called for the doctor.  He came along with Miss Lena and delivered Alice.  We had to stay in that house for two weeks!  I think the house still stands somewhere around Six Points, which was the edge of Corpus at that time.

     My only brother, Eric, Jr., was born on February 21, 1921, at home.  The same doctor delivered all three of us.  I remember when Junior was born.  Alice and I didn’t know we were even expecting a baby. Daddy took us to Grandma Ritter’s and left us there for several days. When he came for us, Alice and I were making mud pies (I don’t know how I remember this).  We were having fun and didn’t want to leave. But, when he told us we had a new baby brother waiting at home, we went right away.  Since Junior was the only boy, I always thought he got special attention!

     We moved from our house in Brighton before Junior was born.  The storm of 1919 dumped a lot of salt on the land in Brighton, so we moved to a house on what is now Ocean Drive.  The land was called the Black Land and was good for farming.  Daddy raised cotton there.  He was a sharecropper and farmed where the land was fertile.  The house was on the bay.  We would occasionally swim in the bay, which was fun.  Alice and I were always good friends.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, but my favorite pastime was reading.  I would find a good tree, climb it, and read and read books.  When my cousins would come to visit, they usually played with Alice and Junior, and I read.  I was very curious about the world and interested in everything the grown up would talk about, so I would try and listen when we had visitors.  Once, Daddy took me to a political rally in Corpus.  That was a highlight for me.

     Mama’s family, the Watsons, moved to Florence, Texas, when I was a little girl.  We would go visit them every summer.  That was always fun. It was a long drive, and we would stay about a month!  When they would come visit us at our house on Ocean Drive, we would always have a fish fry on the bay. Daddy and the other men would cast a net into the bay and catch mullet.  Then they would clean it and fry it right there on the beach.  That was a lot of work for the grown ups, but lots of fun for the kids.  We also had fish fries with our other relatives.  We spent a lot of time with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends.  There wasn’t much else to do in those days.  It sure made for lots of fun memories.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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