|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - January 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Pranks have practically disappeared with the dawning of the 21st century
Polk County Enterprise - January 2009
by Mike Cox, Texas Tales
Whatever happened to pranks? Old-time Texans enjoyed practical jokes more than their descendants seem to. Maybe it’s fear of litigation, but these days good-natured tricks are about as scarce as jobs or easy credit. A sampling of long-ago stunts: One snowy day in 1889 a gang of hobos descended on Alpine. In the words of writer John S. “K. Lamity” Bonner, who heard the tale from a witness, the bums arrived “from the interior of one side-door Pullman, vigorously and courteously assisted by some brakemen and stockmen with prod poles and chunks of coal.” The hobos scattered, only to reappear that evening, one by one, at Albert Cockrell’s saloon. Bartender Abe Anglin, described as a “big, fat jolly, good-natured fellow,” had a robust fire blazing in the stove. His customers, mostly cowboys, busied themselves at billiards and “possibly other innocent pastimes.” The hobos, unable to afford a drink or a turn at the tables, sat on a bench near the fire, content merely to be warm. They may or may not have noticed when one of the cowboys bellied up to the bar for a quiet conversation with the barkeep. A short time later, Billy Baxter turned to the hobos and said he would be happy to stand them a drink. “No second invitation was needed,” Bonner wrote. The visitors rushed to the bar, but the bar tender made no effort to fill their orders. Seems the cowboy’s tab had gone unpaid too long. A noisy argument between Baxter and Anglin ensued. When the cowboy pulled a .45, the hobos’ eyes got as big as locomotive wheels. At about the same moment, the bartender went for his gun. The big man let loose on the cowboy with the six-shooter and Baxter fired back, gun smoke filling the air. Not knowing both adversaries had been shooting blanks, the hobos stampeded, their ears ringing. Choosing cold air over hot lead, the out-of-towners ran out the door and straight into a taut rope another conspirator had quietly stretched at boot-top level outside the bar. The prank victims piled up like cars in a train wreck but got up and kept running. The story had a happy ending. As soon as they figured things had settled down, the hobos returned to the bar. Having had their fun, the cowboys bought them drinks the rest of the night. Even so, as soon as they could, the Knights of the Rail hopped another east-bound freight and got the heck out of Alpine. ■ ■ ■ In the early 1920s, the annual summer revival stood as just about the biggest event of the year in small communities like Plum Creek in Nolan County. “Everyone looked forward to a revival,” Vaudaline R. Thomas recalled in her self-published book, “Plum Creek Memorabilia.” Wagons and buggies still outnumbered Model Ts in rural Texas. Especially in the case of revivals, more people showed up in wagons than automobiles. Convenience had a lot to do with it. Parents spread pallets in the wagon beds, giving their kids a place to sleep as the sermons went on and on. “One night,” Thomas later wrote, “to the surprise of two families, when they arrived home they had the wrong children. Some grown boys in the community had mischievously switched children.” To their credit, the good-humored offenders took care not to awaken the children during the swap. Parents took care of each others’ children until an exchange could be made the next day. ■ ■ ■ In 1935, whether the Legislature should impose a sales tax loomed as one of the biggest political issues in Depression-strapped Texas. Gov. James Allred stood adamantly opposed to the notion. Near the end of the year, he and his family traveled by train to California for the annual Rose Bowl classic. Southern Methodist University would be playing Stanford on New Year’s Day, 1936. Right after SMU’s disappointing 7-0 loss to Stanford, a Western Union messenger approached Allred and handed him a telegram. The governor ripped it open and read horrifying words: In his absence, acting Gov. W. B. Cottle, a senator in favor of a sales tax, had called a special session for Jan. 2 to consider such a tax. “I rushed from the stadium, jumped in a car and headed for my hotel, escorted by police,” Allred later recalled. When the governor’s motorcade stalled in post-game traffic, a police motorcycle officer offered to give Allred a ride on the back of his two-wheeler. Allred hopped on. They weaved in and out of traffic, but the officer, a Los Angeles cop unfamiliar with Pasadena, got lost and somehow ended up right back at the stadium. Finally, in panic and frustration, the governor ran-walked to his hotel. Immediately he got a plane reservation for an emergency flight back to Texas and started packing his bag. Hoping to learn more details of the plot before he left for the airport, Allred tracked down a trusted friend in the capitol press corps. The laughing reporter told the governor the telegram was just a joke — no special session had been called. Allred cancelled his plane reservation, unpacked and proceeded with his schedule, which included a star-studded Hollywood dinner. When he finally got back to Austin a few days later, Allred discovered the perpetrator of the gag had been the Secretary of the Senate, Bob Barker. The story made page one of the Austin newspaper, but how the governor got back at Barker was not reported.