Ames to Crosby. 21 miles/1608.6 total
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
It's another clear sunny day as I set out from next to the railroad tracks in Ames, heading down through Liberty and Dayton, to a spot a little east of Crosby. The first half of the walk will be through these small cities and their outskirts, and the second half will be in the wide open spaces.
The temperature is in the low 40s, expected to get into the high 50s. It got down to around freezing overnight, so it will take some time to warm up.
Very shortly after I begin I leave Ames and enter Liberty, population 8,033. Liberty calls itself “The First City on the Trinity.” That’s the river on the west side of the city. Liberty claims to be the third oldest city in the state, by which I think they mean the third oldest settlement of Americans in what was then Mexican territory. The area was settled by Spanish people in 1752, then in 1831 it became a mostly Anglo city, called Villa de la Santisima Trinidad de la Libertad, meaning, I believe, City of the Most Holy Trinity of Liberty, a bit of a compromise, perhaps, between the interests of the Mexicans and those of the Gringos.
I take the little spur off U.S. 90 into the city center. According to its water tower, Liberty is the home of the Panthers, which I guess is their high school football team. At the corner of Main and Sam Houston stands the Liberty County Courthouse, vintage 1930, a limestone building looking the very picture of the art deco-influenced public architecture of that era, with a nice stylized eagle above the front door, and bas-relief carvings of long horn cows and a train engine and a wagon train, intended to depict the economic underpinnings of the county.
Inside it’s not fancy, but has nice tiled floors. Out on the lawn is a monument to William Logan, the first sheriff of Liberty County, who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, the decisive battle of the Texas war for independence from Mexico.
I go past the courthouse and around the First Methodist Church, a handsome light brown brick building dating from the 1950s. Then down to the City Hall and past the Park Theater, now called the Liberty Opry. The plaque in front of Immaculate Conception Church says this block was designated for Catholic use in 1831 by the Mexican government. In 1846 the Methodists built a church here, but they moved to their present site and the Catholics took this block over again.
Between the railroad tracks and Highway 90 runs Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, which isn’t too shabby as King Drives go. Actually, there’s nothing on it except for a couple of warehouses.
Out past the edge of Liberty I go over the wide high Trinity River, and out onto an alluvial plain, mostly flooded now. The wind is blowing over the water and into my face at about ten miles an hour, adding to the chill.
I see lots of CDs on the side of the road, mostly homemade ones, but here’s something I rarely see. It’s an old 45 rpm record, broken, but with the label intact. It’s Dinah Washington singing “Harbor Lights.” On the B side she’s singing the Hank Williams song, “Your Cold Cold Heart.”
In the middle of the wetlands I leave Liberty and immediately enter Dayton, population 5,709. Dayton was originally called West Liberty, and was part of the original city of Liberty. Gradually it became known as Day’s Town, after a prominent citizen, then Dayton, which became its official name in about 1885.
Dayton was the site of a claimed UFO sighting on December 29, 1980. Two women and the seven-year-old grandson of one of them were driving home when they saw a huge diamond-shaped object hovering at about treetop level, expelling flames and emitting significant heat. They got out to take a look. The grandmother, a born-again Christian, thought it was the second coming of Christ, and told her grandson, “That’s Jesus. He will not hurt us.” The joke was on them. The heat became so intense that it hurt to put their hands on the car. The object then moved higher in the sky and the three got back into the car and went home. But Jesus had put the hurt on them big time. The next day all three began to experience nausea and diarrhea, and soon developed skin lesions and experienced hair loss, all symptoms similar to those of radiation poisoning, or perhaps chemical contamination. Except that they pretty much got better. Eventually the women sued the government for 20 million dollars (because they had seen some military helicopters around the diamond-shaped object), but the lawsuit was dismissed based on the government’s testimony that it did not have a large, diamond-shaped aircraft in its possession. Nor, I imagine, did it have a Jesus in its possession.
To me, the telling fact is that these things always happen in the BFE parts of the country, where people are already somewhat addle-pated just from their cultural environment. "That's Jesus." Or not.
About a mile and a half after I enter the Dayton city limits I begin to climb up and out of the Trinity River basin, toward the town. There’s a historical marker entitled the Runaway Scrape, about the flight of Anglo settlers along this route in 1836, after the Battle of the Alamo. Colonists abandoned their homes and sought refuge in East Texas and Louisiana, assuming they would be slaughtered by the Mexicans. Then they got news of the victory of Sam Houston’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto.
One of the things to keep in mind amid these stirring tales of the Texas war for independence is that they were fighting in part for the right to own slaves. The Mexicans had outlawed slavery in 1829, but the English-speaking Texans were granted a one-year extension. Then in 1830 the president of Mexico ordered all slaves to be freed. This pissed off the noble, freedom-loving, white Texans, and the result a few years later was armed rebellion. Of course the long-range plan in the minds of many was for anschluss with the U.S. as a slave state, which eventually happened.
So for at least 5,000 black people the result of the Texas war for independence was that they could kiss their own independence good-bye.
A little west of Dayton I pass a pasture where a huge black Angus bull is grazing near the fence. Due to my success yesterday I try a little singing, and start in on Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me.” The bull turns his head slowly and gives me a look, as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding. That crap might work on those young steers, with no balls and nothing to do but prance around all day, but I am totally unimpressed."
I stop at the Racetrac gas station to get a couple of things, because this will be the last store of any kind for the rest of the walk, some twelve more miles. Then it’s out into the countryside.
Soon I come to another historical marker. It’s about the town of Stilson, the place the map says is supposed to be here. During the late 1800s a railroad guy named O.H. Stilson set this place up and advertised for people from Iowa to come down and farm the area, which many did, including some Swedes. The town thrived for a few decades, then began to decline when the population gradually began to move to Dayton. The post office closed in 1925, and rural mail delivery out of Dayton took over. Now there’s hardly anything left, except for this marker.
A few miles on down, at a wide spot in the road, an old man is selling elaborate bird houses. He has several of them on the hood and roof of his vehicle. I ask him how much they are selling for and he says $95 each. He doesn’t want to put his window down when I approach, so I have to shout. I realize he’s probably afraid of me, a guy on foot with bulges in his sweatshirt. And he also knows I won’t be buying one of these huge birdhouses and walking off with it. So he gives me the bum's rush.