Austinite second most decorated soldier in World War I

Reader Darlene Freitag wondered if we could write about her grandfather, Pvt. Alfred Robert “Buck” Simpson, the second-most decorated American World War I veteran.

Pvt. ‘Buck’ Simpson was interviewed by the Austin Statesman for this Sept. 27, 1925 edition.

The timing is apt given the upcoming 100th annivesary of the war’s end in November 1918.

“He was raised in the Bee Cave area where he was a cedar chopper by trade,” Freitag writes. “I believe his story would interest not only Texans in the area but others as well.”

Born in 1895, “Fighting Buck” appears to have been nearly as effective a marksman as Sgt. Alvin York, the most decorated veteran of the Great War.

On the other hand, Simpson could claim the quicker temper, as stories about his time in the Austin area confirm. By way of contrast, Hollywood star Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Oscar for the 1941 movie about the more stoical Tennessean York.

In his excellent book, “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing,” Ken Roberts describes Simpson as part of a large Hill Country clan, unusually productive harvesting cedar in the brakes.

On Oct. 11, 1918, during the the Battle of Argonne-Muese near Somme-Py, France, Simpson captured a machine gun unaided and turned it on the Germans.

According Roberts, his captain wrote to the family: “I told him to run, but he told me: ‘Hell, I come from Texas, and I don’t run from nobody.’” (Naturally, the exact phrasing differs in various accounts.)

Austin tried to reward Simpson by teaching him how to read and hiring him as a guard at the Capitol.

He quit school because: “I got tired of a bunch of little bitty kids smarter than me.” He couldn’t tell time or punch a clock, so he was fired from his job at the Capitol.

According to his gravestone at the Roberts-Teague Cemetery at Cliffs Edge Drive and Creeks Edge Parkway in the Barton Creek West subdivision, Simpson died at age 73 in 1969.

Believe me, there are many more Buck Simpson stories out there, including brushes with the law and a stint in prison, and Freitag has promised to show me her grandfather’s memorabilia.

In 1911, Booker T. Washington drew 5,000 to Austin park

On Sept. 29, 1911, the celebrated orator, author, educator and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington spoke to a very large crowd in Austin at Wooldridge Square. The founder of the Tuskegee Institute came at the invitation of the Rev. L.L. Campbell of St. John Orphanage and Ebenezer Baptist Church.

This 1894 file photo shows Booker T. Washington. AP Photo/Library of Congress

“He started his day at the St. John Orphanage,” said Ted Eubanks, an Austin certified interpretive planner and heritage interpreter. “There is a photo of him having breakfast there. He then visited both Huston and Tillotson colleges before speaking at Wooldridge Square in the evening. The Texas legislature had denied him permission to speak in the Capitol, so Mayor A.P. Wooldridge invited him to speak at the new park in Wooldridge Square instead.”

Newspaper reports put the size of the crowd of mostly African-Americans at 5,000, this at a time when the area’s population hovered around 35,000. To make a not too far-fetched comparison, that would be like attracting 286,000 citizens from our metro population of 2 million to hear a speech today. That would require a hall three times the size of Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium.

Introduced by the mayor, Washington, a proponent of racial conciliation, argued against the Great Migration of rural African-Americans to northern cities and urged blacks to remain in the South and especially on farms.

More problematic from an historical perspective, Washington had, in 1895, struck the unwritten “Atlanta Compromise” with white Southern leaders. In exchange for education and due process in law, blacks in the South would continue to work and bend to white political control and abjure social justice activism.

Washington’s ideas influenced Mayor Wooldridge and some Austin black leaders, Eubanks said, and, subsequently, helped shape the 1928 urban plan that led to a separate Negro District in East Austin, along with promised civic amenities, not always delivered. It of course also led to stricter segregation for decades and lingering inequities today.

On the 29th of this month, a smaller crowd is expected at Wooldridge Square for a 107th anniversary celebration of the big speech. Spectrum Theatre Company will recreate Washington’s speech and today’s leaders will add their thoughts before Eubanks gives a tour of the area around the square, including the site of the First (Colored) Baptist Church where the Austin History Center now sits. The event is backed by Downtown Austin Alliance, Friends of Wooldridge Square, Travis County Historical Commission and the Austin History Center.

“We will be not only talking about Washington the man, but we will also delve into the lost histories of Wooldridge Square, especially African-American histories,” said Eubanks, who has been working on a collaborative project about downtown history called Our Austin Story. “I could make the argument that Washington’s visit in 1911 represents one of the seminal events in Austin history. No only did the city respond in overwhelming numbers … Washington’s influence on city leaders, especially A.P. Wooldridge, can still be seen today.”

From the photo vault: Summer fun at the lake in old Austin

So many readers liked our first foray into the old Austin photo vaults for memories of summer fun, we decided to dive in again. This time we look at the evolution of lake life.

A group of four women in a boat feed a flock of white ducks on a lake in Hyde Park. One could date this scene any time between 1890 and 1900. Austin History Center PICA 19797

The 1890s Hyde Park trolley development, Austin’s first specifically segregated subdivision, was built partially atop an old race track associated with the Texas State Fair. It included a lake and a pavilion approximately where Baker Elementary School later rose in 1911. These women dressed in their best to take in the watery oasis across Asylum Road from what was called the Texas State Lunatic Asylum.

Fish fry in 1921 at the dam, most likely on Lake McDonald, predecessor to Lake Austin. Jacob Fontaine Religious Museum via  Portal to Texas History

Picnics, barbecues and fish fries near cooling waterways were attractive ways to keep religious communities together socially on long Sundays. This photo includes: William Tears Sr., Rev. L.L. Hayes, Rev. and Mrs. J.E. Knox, Rev. and Mrs. Pius and their daughter Ruth Augusta, Sister Mollie Perry, Bualie Murphy and Lewis Mitchell.

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Water skiing on Lake Austin in the 1940s. At least we think it is Lake Austin in this William Hague Foster photo. Contributed by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary via Portal to Texas History

Lake Austin was formed in 1939 when Tom Miller Dam impounded the Colorado River and replaced Lake McDonald, which dated to the 1890s. Long, serpentine and narrow, Lake Austin was protected from high winds by the surrounding hills and it was soon recognized as an ideal setting for water skiers. They share the lake now with kayakers, paddle boarders and other lake lovers.

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Fishing scene in the shallows of Lake Travis. No date. Austin History Center PICA 16753

When Lake Travis began to fill up in 1942 — it took a while — the flooded tributary creeks and hollows turned into excellent fishing waters, in part because of recently submerged vegetation. This image was taken for the Texas Highway Department, so was likely part of a campaign to lure tourists to the new lake. Roads were still pretty primitive, so communities like Lakeway and Lago Vista would have to wait.

People wading and floating in the water at Lake Austin Beach. No date. Austin History Center PICA 21752

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that this scene is where the Walsh Boat Landing now sits on Scenic Drive near Lake Austin Boulevard and Enfield Road. These days, residences rise on the hills in the background. Although this historical image is not dated, I’d guess the 1950s. During that decade, my family patronized a small recreational lake like this one on the Texas-Lousiana border, not far from our home in Shreveport.

1940-2018: Joe Lung of longtime Austin eatery family is dead at 77

Joe Lung, whose family operated popular Austin eateries for three generations, died of complications from a stroke at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House on Wednesday evening. He was 77.

Joe Lung’s family came to Austin in the 1880s. They owned a series of diners, restaurants and sandwich shops. Late in life, Lung welcomed visitors from around the world at the State Capitol gift shop. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

On 1911 Austin crime: ‘That murdered deputy sheriff was my grandfather’

These days, readers provide the lion’s share of material for Austin Found. Or at least they get the ball rolling.

Last month, we serialized the report of a 1911 double murder on West Monroe Street as reported in Ken Roberts‘ new book, “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing.” John Teague, son of a Hill Country clan, killed John Gest, owner of the Little South Austin Saloon, attempted to kill his bartender, Max Himmelreich, before heading west to the Balcones Escarpment. Around South First Street, he encountered Deputy Sheriff George Duncan (sometimes referred to as Lemuel). They wrestled and Teague killed Duncan as well. He received a 99-year sentence, yet less than 10 years later, Teague was released from prison.

RELATED: Double murder in 1911 did not merit much prison time.

Murdered Deputy Sheriff George Duncan. Contributed by Anna Galloway

Anna Galloway, who had worked with me on a story about the old rural community of Duval, which is now subsumed into North Austin off Duval Road, called to say: “That murdered deputy sheriff was my grandfather.”

“Of course you’ve heard the story that when Gov. Pa Ferguson was impeached, he asked for the names of 99 felons with 99-year sentences and pardoned them all,” Galloway relates about the extraordinarily corrupt politician. “John Teague was one of the 99.”

In fact, Teague was only on trial for the murder of Gest, since Himmelreich was a living witness. The authorities figured they had him.

Some 40 years later, Galloway says, one of Duncan’s five orphaned girls, Alta May Duncan, was working at Brackenridge when Teague was hospitalized. As a nurse, she was required to attend to the man who had murdered her father. She refused and was backed up by an upper supervisor who had the good sense to realize that Brack would be held liable if something fishy happened to Teague under her care.

Online records indicate that Teague died in May 1972.

RELATED: Best Texas books: “The Cedar Choppers” by Ken Roberts.

“The irony is that my great-grandmother made a decision soon after the funeral to move the widowed mother and her five girls to Hays County,” Galloway says. “They bought acreage with a lot of cedar trees. They built a charcoal kiln, chopped cedar and burned it in the kiln. Then they sacked charcoal which was brought into Austin and sold.”

In other words, they, too, became cedar choppers.

I’m from Oatmeal or Nameless or Radiance or Mud City, Texas

The Lone Star Library has released a second edition in paperback of “Texas Towns: From Abner to Zipperlandville,” revised by Paris Parmenter and John Bigley from the late Don Blevins‘ nifty thematic guide to name origins, settlement dates and driving directions for hamlets, villages and towns all over the state.

Here are some choice, out-of-the-way spots in the greater Austin area. Although the authors have researched their entries assiduously, their versions of civic origin myths might differ from what locals claim.

Remains of a windmill in Oatmeal, Texas. Helen Anders/American-Statesman

Nameless (Travis County) off FM 1431, five miles northeast of Lago Vista. “Settlers were on the grounds by 1869. When residents of the new established community applied for a post office, officials rejected every name the proposed for the facility. After half a dozen names were turned back, somebody it on him- or herself to write the Post Office Department, “Let the post office be nameless and be damned!” Apparently, taking the writer at his words, Nameless became official in 1880.

Oatmeal (Burnet County) on FM 243 eight miles southeast of Burnet. “This is the second oldest community in Burnet County. A German family, reportedly named Habermill, came into the region in 1849 and settled on what is now Oatmeal Creek (near the headwaters of the San Gabriel River). Some believe the name of the stream and ultimately the settlement, came from that of Othneil, a mill owner, or a supposed translation of the name Habermill (haber is a German dialect word for hafer, “oats”).”

Mud City (Travis County) on FM 969 four miles southeast of Austin. “The settlement date is unknown. Little is left of this hamlet, whose claim to fame is that FBI agents once hid out here waiting for 1920s outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (they didn’t show). The hamlet acquired its designation becaus when Cottonwood Creek flooded, the roads became so muddy that walking on them was virtually impossible.”

Radiance (Travis County) on FM 1826 south of Oak Hill. “Developed in the 1970s as a commune for practitioners of transcendental meditation. The name Radiance comes from Super Radiance Effect, the theory that communal meditation brings peace and understanding and will ultimately serve to cure many social ills.”

 

The Statesman has had more than a dozen homes

Ben Sargent, political cartoonist, printer and history advocate, asks: “Has anyone ever listed all the various places from which the Statesman has been published in its nearly 150 years?”a

“My curiosity was prompted while looking at a 1900 Sanborn (fire insurance) map of downtown Austin, and I noticed that in that year, apparently the paper was occupying the Millett Opera House,” writes Sargent, who is retired from the American-Statesman. “There is even a little structure out back that appeared to be a boiler house and labeled ‘type foundry.'”

 

This detail from the 1900 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the Austin Statesman’s printing facility inside the old Millett Opera House on East Ninth Street.

The Millett Opera House, built in 1878 at 110 E. Ninth St., has played many roles, including as the city’s leading theater. It now serves as home for the Austin Club.

“Anyway, I know of the famous upstairs-from-the-saloon location at 10th and Congress, the wonderful ‘old building’ at Seventh and Colorado (shamefully razed by the University of Texas), and of course the Guadalupe Street and the Riverside buildings where we worked,” Sargent writes, “but there appear to have been some unknown number of other venues.”

I did a spot check among the Austin City Directories at the Austin History Center and found a lot of locations. Apparently printing presses were much lighter and equipped with wheels by the time the tri-weekly Democratic Statesman was founded in 1871. It was listed at Congress Avenue between Hickory (Eighth) and Ash (Ninth) streets in the 1872-73 directory. (Numeral addresses were not uniformly used well into the 20th century.)

It had moved to the northeast corner of Congress and Ash by 1877-1878. The directory lists three other papers including the Texas Stern (German). In 1887-1888, the Statesman (no longer Democratic), was at 126 W. Pecan (Sixth) St. and trundled over to 122 W. Sixth by 1891-92. It was listed at 713 Congress in 1907.

Now here’s where it gets complicated: In 1914, it merged with the Austin Tribune (which had been 400-2 Congress), the same year it earned competition from the morning Austin American (813 Congress).

The Austin Statesman and Tribune didn’t last long as a name and by 1916, the evening Austin Statesman was found on the southwest corner of Brazos and East Seventh and remained there after it merged with the American. The same company put out both papers and the combined Sunday American-Statesman for decades there, and its next home at West Seventh and Colorado streets, until they were combined into one paper with four daily editions in 1973.

Exterior view of The American Statesman building which was located at West Seventh and Colorado Streets in 1947 as photographed by Neal Douglass. Contributed by Austin History Center ND-47-171-05
By this time, it had moved to the location at West Fourth and Guadalupe Streets. It is finally listed at its current location in 1981. At first the address “166 Riverside Dr.” was used for our campus, but we later turned our faces westward for today’s address: 305 South Congress Ave.
UPDATE: The Riverside Drive address was rendered incorrectly in an earlier version of this post.