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.

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.

Revisiting the Continental Club in the 1960s

A reader asks our Austin Answered project: “Was the Continental Club a sleazy topless bar back in the early 1960s? I remember having a roommate in 1963 who danced there.”

Yes. What was founded by Morin Scott in 1957 on South Congress Avenue as a swanky jazz supper club became by the early ’60s what has been variously described as a “burlesque,” “strip club” or “topless bar.”

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There’s more to this image than meets the eye. ©Andrew Shapter

According to the Handbook of Texas, Martin Schuler took over the lease in the late 1960s and turned it into a neighborhood tavern. He purchased the club in the 1970s and leased it out. That’s when it became a music venue again. Mark Pratz and J’nette Ward operated it during the 1980s before it was made over by Steve Wertheimer, the current owner, in 1987 as part of an effort to revive some of the club’s ’50s allure.

MORE OLD AUSTIN SPOTS: Stallion Drive Inn

On his Austin Clubland website, music journalist and historian Michael Corcoran reports that the building had an earlier history as a laundromat in 1947. He also reminds us that during the tawdry ’60s, happy hour ran from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. — “That’s not a misprint” — and that it briefly served as a disco.

Now about the striking image that accompanies this story. It is not what it seems. And there’s a great story to go with it.

“It was spring of 1993, almost exactly 25 years ago from today,” wrote Andrew Shapter, photographer and documentary maker, when we asked to republish it. “It was a Sunday and at that time, very few people were around (unlike today). I was doing a portrait session on South Congress when rain interrupted the session and forced me to reschedule my client.”

The roll of black and white film in his camera had a single frame left.

“I was aiming my camera up towards the Continental Club sign just as the sun had broken through the clouds. It was a near perfect photo,” Shapter wrote. “But just before I snapped the picture, a guy named Steve, the iconic club owner, popped out and said ‘You’d get a much better picture from the roof.’”

Next thing he knew, Wertheimer escorted him to the roof.

“Just seconds before I snapped it, a lone vintage motorcycle pulled out from a side street into the center of the shot,” Shapter says. “Flash forward to years later, The New York Times was doing a travel story on South Austin. The photo caption read ‘The Continental Club, circa 1960.’

“I took it as a compliment.”

Honoring Austin patron saint Roberta Reed Crenshaw

Roberta Reed Crenshaw was an Austin patron saint with a double halo. She permanently blessed both the environment and the arts.

On Friday, city leaders honored Crenshaw, who died in 2005, with the dedication of the Roberta Reed Crenshaw Overlook, an arced terrace above Lady Bird Lake near the southwest corner of West Cesar Chavez and Congress Avenue.

Phoebe Allen and Mary Arnold, motivated by Shudde Fath, pushed for the Roberta Reed Crenshaw Overlook. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The most revered among the present dignitaries was Shudde Fath, 102, herself a framer of Austin’s culture in the areas of ecology, affordability, transparency and social justice. And of course Fath stole the show with her personal memories of “Bobbie” Crenshaw.

RELATED: Activist Shudde Fath at 100.

Others present on or off the dais under a giant cedar elm were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, historian Phoebe Allen, open-space activist Mary Arnold, architects Evan Taniguchi and Sinclair Black, parks historian Kim McKnight, Paramount leaders past and present John Bernadoni and Jim Ritts, Austin Parks Foundation captain Colin Wallis and many others.

So you are new to town and you didn’t know Crenshaw? Thrice married, she was one of those charismatic civic leaders that didn’t take “no” for an answer. If she wanted it done, it got done almost every time.

She was crucial in the founding of Ballet Austin and the nonprofit chapter of the Paramount Theatre‘s 100+ year history. An early appointee to the Parks and Recreation board, she led the way for Pease ParkRoy Guererro ParkReed Park and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. Almost always, she rolled up her sleeves, forged ahead, and let the city staff and politicians follow in line. On more than one occasion, she gifted the land for the parks.

RELATED: How Roberta Crenshaw became the Paramount’s patron saint.

But the reason why the Overlook sits high above the lake and the trail below: Crenshaw was among the first to promote the idea of a trail soon after the body of water was impounded in 1960. She fought off a commercial amusement park and motorboat races on the lake.

And she discovered that, by state law, anything below the high water mark on Texas rivers was deemed public. So she had both sides of the lake declared parkland and, by doing so, prevented an expressway that would have severed the lakefront from downtown. For that alone, she deserves our eternal praise.

At the ceremony, Fath recalled what she had said about Crenshaw at her funeral.

“She was responsible for starting more good things in this city than almost anyone else,” Fath said. “She was my hero. She never gave up.”

Austin has more to say about Stallion Drive Inn

Our story about the Stallion Drive Inn, a comfort food spot on North Lamar Boulevard, stirred strong memories among our readers.

The Stallion Drive Inn on North Lamar Boulevard. Contributed

Steve Hamlett remembers cheap, good food and lots of it. He describes a sign on the side of the building that read: “Flash Your Lights.”

“Were diners supposed to flash their car lights to let the people inside know that more customers were arriving?” Hamlett writes. “Seemed very strange.  I don’t think I ever actually did it or saw anyone else do it.”

Might have been a relic of the Stallion’s curb service days. Hamlett also remembers a Stallion jingle set to the tune of the “Bonanza” theme.

During the 1960s and ’70s, Don Valk usually stopped by the Stallion on the way to the Skyline Club.

“They had a special: For 35 cents got you a couple of chicken wings, small salad and a couple of french fries,” Volk writes. “To get in the Skyline was around 50 cents and there was 10 cent beer from 8 to 9:30 plus plenty of fine looking ladies to dance with.”

Mike Steele dropped into the Stallion often.

“There was a cook there named Willis Earls who had been a professional boxer,” Steele writes. “He had an intimidating presence but was super nice. Biggest hands I’ve ever seen. You could pass a quarter through one of his rings. Not only did he cook, he kept the peace there.”

The color of the cream gravy concerned several readers.

“I remember the gravy being a little green, not orange,” writes Jake Lorfing. “But I ate lots of it!”

“The gravy was yellow green and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen gravy that color again,” writes Mark Peppard. “Just remember how good it was.”

“The gravy wasn’t orange,” Harry Thompson writes. “It was the light from the beer signs.”

As for exactly when the Stallion closed, we received three crucial messages.

Jeanette Breelove recalls that her husband, Mack Breedlove, was the commercial broker who talked the owners, Bill Joseph‘s family, into selling the tract to Macdonalds in the early ’80s But she did have a specific date.

Bill Joseph, son of the owner, said his father operated the Stallion from 1949 until his death in December 18, 1981. His mother kept place open for another year, then it was managed by an uncle, E.C. Mowdy.

Retired and living in Fredericksburg, Joseph, part of the extended Lebanese-Texan family, recalls the spot as a place where World War II veterans gathered to tell stories they wouldn’t talk about elsewhere. (He kept notes!)

Stewart Smiley says the Stallion closed unexpectedly the day before Thanksgiving 1984. “No notice was given ahead of time,” Smiley told us. “It just closed and that was it.”

Mixed memories of the Stallion Drive Inn eatery on North Lamar

Reader Gary Vliet asks of our Answered Answered project: “In the 1970s there was a great restaurant on North Lamar, the Stallion. Could you give a little history and when and why it closed?”

Night view of Stallion Drive Inn Restaurant and parking lot as photographed by Neal Douglass in 1950. Contributed by Austin History Center ND-50-235-01

The Stallion Drive Inn Restaurant was located at 5534 Dallas Highway (now North Lamar Boulevard).

We know that the Stallion, which served comfort food such as chicken fried steak, veal cutlets, hamburgers, malts and liver and onions, went back at least as far as 1950. That’s because of a fine Neal Douglass photo taken Oct. 4, 1950. It was part of a strip of highway businesses — the Chief Drive-In Theater, which opened in 1947, road houses, diners, etc. — that served the new suburbs or Allandale, Crestview and Brentwood, etc.

Austin Answered: You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

“It was still open in the mid-1980s (’83-’85),” says beloved broadcaster Fred Cantu, “because I used to join in as Sammy Allred did live radio spots for the Stallion when we did mornings at KTXZ’s ‘All Star Rock & Roll.’”

Don’t yet know exactly when and why it closed. Hold that thought for another column.

Two Facebook pages, “Old Austin Dives, Greasy Spoons, Etc.” and “Dazed and Confused/Keeping Our Austin Memories Alive w/Its Rich History,” regularly feature the Stallion. While some contributors relish memories of certain dishes as well as employees and other guests, others walked away from the Drive Inn perplexed by the food, which included cream gravy poured over salad.

“I never figured out how they got the gravy to be that orange color,” posts Bubba Stark. “Great cheap food, though.”

The atmosphere sounds pure Austin

“I loved the Stallion!” posts Mark Lind. “The most eclectic mix of clientele of any restaurant in old Austin: hippies, bikers, ‘kickers,’ families, etc. Bar downstairs, restaurant upstairs. And a great neon sign.”

“It was good, cheap eating,” posts Frank Tomicek. “Had triple-patties there on many occasions with a three-buck pitcher of Lone Star. I miss that place.”

UPDATE: Fred Cantu’s memories were added to the original post.

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.