CAMELS ON THE COAST


The Texas coast town of Indianola  was once a major port and the county seat of Lavaca County.  Incorporated in 1853, it was a port of entry for many German immigrants and at its height had a population of 5,000.  In 1875 a hurricane destroyed the town and killed several hundred people; those remaining rebuilt.   Just over ten years later in 1886 another destructive storm struck the recovering town.  This time the residents did not rebuild but scattered as the county seat was moved to nearby Port Lavaca.

Today if you visit the area you will not find much of this ghost town left other than a stone marker for the courthouse and a Texas Historical Marker for the town of Indianola.  And there is a rather strange rustic metal sculpture of a man leading a camel.

This photo came from the Calhoun County Historical Commission website.

A few feet in front is a state marker with this title and explanation:
THE GREAT CAMEL EXPERIMENT

No immigrants arriving in Indianola were quite as exotic as the seventy-five camels that came ashore in 1856 and 1857 from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. As early as 1836, politicians, diplomats and the military were considering the importation of camels for use in North America’s desert wastelands. In 1853, secretary of war Jefferson Davis, a man familiar with harsh desert conditions, proposed to congress the use of camels as pack animals in the desert southwest. Congress approved the request on March 3, 1855. After a three-month voyage from the Mediterranean, the Fashion entered Matagorda Bay on May 13, 1856 and landed the camels at the wharf at powder horn. Thirty-four camels, ranging from Bactrians (two-humped variety), Arabians (one-hump variety) and a hybrid-cross between the two, came ashore. Many residents of Indianola recalled the unusual sight of the camels being led through the streets. By February 1857, a second government shipment of forty-one camels arrived in Indianola. Military camel caravans carrying supplies became more common in the Texas Hill Country between the camels’ home of Camp Verde and San Antonio. The camels, along with traditional livestock, were used in the summer of 1857 to survey the great wagon road between Arizona and California, now known as Route 66. The camels were also used in 1859 and 1860 for reconnaissance in west Texas, surveying routes to the U.S./Mexico border. In 1861, upon the outbreak of the Civil War, all U.S. military assets, including the camels, came into possession of confederate troops and, after the war, the camels were auctioned off. (2013) Marker is Property of the State of Texas”

There is not much left of the old Camp Verde  facility, located between the towns of Kerrville and Bandara in the Texas Hill Country, except for a stone marker.  About a mile away is the site of a store on Verde Creek established in 1857, mainly to supply the fort.

The original store was was washed away by the creek.  Today it is the site of Camp Verde General Store and Restaurant, a rustic Hill Country attraction.  Outside is a rather abstract metal camel sculpture as a nod to its past.   Husband and I would like to visit both sites in the fall.

Photo taken from Camp Verde General Store and Restaurant website


 

BOOK: “THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY”


Here is a quote from the jacket of the book, The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell.

“From 1942 to 1945, secret government trains regularly delivered civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas.  The trains carried Japanese, German and Italian immigrants and their American-born children.  The vast majority were deeply loyal to the United States, were never charged with any crime, and did not understand why they had been forced to leave their homes.

The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program.  During the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their children, were exchanged for other ostensibly more important Americans – diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians and missionaries – behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.”

Growing up in South Texas about one hundred miles from Crystal City, I had visited this small town with my parents but never knew that it had been home to an internment camp that some called a concentration camp. 

Those internment camps for the Japanese got more attention in the history books.  These immigrants had committed no crime but were still detained and held behind a 10-foot high fence as if they were prisoners.  In time it came to resemble a small town with stores, churches, schools, libraries, a hospital and a swimming pool.  Families lived in small one-family cottages.  While the detainees were treated well, they were still the equivalent of prisoners.

 Russell interviewed more than fifty survivors and gained access to private journals, diaries, FBI files, camp administration records and more.   Through her research she follows the camp from opening to closing and provides detailed descriptions of daily life in the camp.   One focus was on two American-born teenagers, one Japanese and one German, and how they were affected by the camp, their repatriation to Japan and Germany and finally the choice they made to return to the United States.   

During the war some were released, paroled or repatriated; others were kept for the duration of the war.   The camp was finally closed in 1946.  

The author  has also written a  biography,  Lady Bird:  A Biography of Mrs. Johnson.

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After I learned of this little known part of the history of WWII and the part this remote Texas town played in the drama, I wanted to visit Crystal City again after all these years.   Husband and I drove to Crystal City one cold November day and on our way passed through the small Texas town of Freer where I grew up.  The first stop was in Crystal City at the Popeye statue; more people probably know that the city claims to be the Spinach  Capital of the World than that there was once a camp for alien enemies outside of town. 

Since the former camp is not exactly a tourist attraction, we stopped at the local library to ask directions.   A young woman gave us directions and informed us that there was not much to see but there there some markers.  We followed the directions toward the edge of town and passed several public school campuses.  The pavement ended and we were on a dirt road.

The area was marked by these simple wooden information signs describing the site; I had expected something more than these humble, almost reluctant, reminders of history.  Although we did not find it that day (it was cold!), there is a stone marker that reads, “World War II Concentration Camp 1943-1946” installed in 1985.  In 2014 the site was listed on the National Register  of Historic Places.  Wikipedia has a photo of the stone memorial and more information.

A marker with a “you are here” on a map of the former camp.  Note that it was described as “American Enemy Alien Internment” while photos appear to  more like people at  a summer camp enjoying swimming, diving and other activities.

Description of the reservoir that was converted into a swimming pool.

This seemed to be a tank used to mark a reunion of survivors of the camp and the site of the swimming pool.

The area is quiet today with nothing but a few foundations to remind us of what had been outside this small Texas town south of San Antonio.   It is rough flat country with heat and sun and dust, just miles from the border of Mexico.  What must have those families have thought when they arrived?  How did they face the unknown with no control over their fate?  How did they feel about the  government of the United States?

There are lessons to be learned from this period even today as the loyalty and patriotism of some immigrants is sometimes questioned.  We saw the reaction when we were attacked on 9/11.  Some of that fear still lingers.

Related books:
The Crystal City Story:  One Family’s Experience with the World War II Japanese Internment Camps by Tomo Izumi (non-fiction written by a survivor of the camp)

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner (historical fiction)

 

BLUEBONNETS AND TAXES


 

  About a week ago Husband and I drove to Freer to visit my brother-in-law on a cold, wet and dreary day.  Winter seemed to be winning over spring in the seasonal tug-of-war that often plays out in South Texas this time of year.  Cardinals were grateful for the treats provided in a bird feeder in the his back yard as we watched from the warmth of the house.  As we left we stopped to enjoy the Texas Bluebonnets that appeared to have been scattered carelessly by the side of the dirt road and clustered together as if to defy the 39 degree temperature.  Perhaps it was a sign of an early spring and a good year for wildflowers.

Yes, it is tax time!  I am volunteering again with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) four mornings a week at the United Way office in Corpus Christi.  The site opened in the middle of January when the government, including the IRS, was partially shut down.  The IRS website used for processing tax returns was up and running, but we could not communicate with our IRS contact as he had been furloughed.  Eventually some employees were called back to handle tax returns.  Getting refunds out was deemed essential!  Even when the government was opened  back up, people who came in were still apprehensive about another shutdown and were anxious to get their tax returns done.  Gratefully, that has been avoided with the compromise passed by both houses of Congress and signed reluctantly by President Trump.  There were some surprises in refunds/taxes due from last year due to changes in the tax laws but that is another story.

                                                               CHEERS!

COLD HUMMER


Last week a slight cool front came in for us – in the low sixties.  I still had a couple of hummingbird feeders up for stragglers that might be hanging around.  I saw one perched on a feeder for quite some time and mentioned it to Husband.  He went out to check it out and took some photos with the hummer still perched and fluffed out.

He was able to get  very close but the visitor never moved.  Usually, they don’t stay put for very long as anyone has tried to photograph them would agree.

He finally went up and picked it up.  It put up no resistance so he brought it into the house and warmed it between his hands.

 

It was a ruby-throated hummingbird and you can see a hint of red.  When they flash it in flight, it is a beautiful iridescent red displayed on their throat area.

It has opened its eyes but still made no movement – unusual for a hummer.   Yet we were afraid it might suddenly take off flying in the house.

I found a small cardboard box, took it outside in the back yard and placed a fluffy towel inside.  Husband brought the tiny bird out and placed it in the box while it glared back at him as if to say, “Were am I?”  Husband now took the camera again and took a photo of it in the box.  With that final flash of the camera, our friend regained his senses and quickly flew out of the box and high into a neighbor’s dense tree.

The next day I saw a ruby-throated come to the one feeder I had left out.  (The other one was becoming cloudy and that is not good for them.)   In the several days since we have only seen one lone hummer visit the feeder.  Was it our cold hummer?  Maybe, maybe not, but I hope we have helped it on his way south and were good hosts to all of them.

The quote below was enclosed in a birthday card to me from Son a couple of weeks ago.  It was timely in many ways.

“Legends say that hummingbird float free of time, carrying our hope for love, joy and celebration.  The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”

REMEMBERING MY SISTER


Some of you may remember my post that mentioned my sister and her husband losing their home in a fire outside of Freer  the day before Hurricane Harvey hit.  They were able to rebuild and move into their new home in time to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in December.  Sadly,  the effects of Alzheimer’s had already reduced the quality of her life.  Last week she died peacefully at home at the age of 87.

With my son standing beside me I was able to deliver these words of remembrance at her service.

SISTERS: MARIE, BARBARA AND ME

I hate losing one of my big sisters, Marie.  She was thirteen years older so she was like a second mother to me.  My other sister, Barbara, is nine years older.  I wanted to grow up to be just like my big sisters.  They both helped with me when I was little.  When Marie and Clifton got married, I would often stay with them as my mother had some health problems.  She always seemed to be in the kitchen cooking something.  If unexpected guests arrived, she would waltz into the kitchen and whip out a meal from scratch.

As our age gap narrowed, we became adult friends.  She shared her recipes – buttermilk pie, Christmas cookies and casseroles.  And she taught me how to cook deer meat a dozen different ways.  Yet could never teach me how to crochet – my fingers could just not handle a crochet needle and thread.  But she could crochet anything!

For the past several years the three of us could not always get together very often, but when we did, before we left we would join hands and make a circle.  We laughed like kids again.  I am not sure who started this, but I think it was Barbara.  If only two of us were together, we would still join hands and enlist anyone standing nearby – a niece, a nephew, a husband – to join and complete the circle.

Last Sunday Barbara and I went to Freer to see Marie.  As we left we took her frail hands and made our circle.  She opened her eyes.  We wanted to think she understood, but it didn’t matter…we were making our last circle.

I will miss my big sister, Big Daughter, as our father called her.  She had a full life.  She loved Freer, she loved living on the ranch that our grandparents started, she loved her family and most of all she loved Clifton for almost 71 years.

Rest in peace, my sister.

Her a link to her obituary is below.

https://www.holmgreenmortuaryinc.com/services.asp?page=odetail&id=3293&fbclid=IwAR2Pt64cMmojGOApGeUTqWk7lF4bqfrusQyy2iLuSb1oisILbPVdcW7h_K8