Saturday, May 05, 2007

Friday not-X-Blogging. Just regular blogging.

I have nothing against Hamilton County, Texas.

The landscape there is quite hospitable, by Texas standards. It has good rivers and streams, lined with huge native pecan trees, and it has thick woods and rich farmland on rolling hills and buttes. It's sparsely populated, but the few people I've met there seemed friendly and capable, if a little off-center, in the classic Central Texas tradition.

While driving through that county a while back, I pulled off at a little roadside picnic area to stretch my legs. There I found this Texas State Historical Marker:

Historical Marker - Hamilton County, TX

Whoever wrote that blurb obviously took some pride in the rough pioneer heritage of the county, but I remember being struck by its evident tone of reverence for some pretty savage, benighted redneckery. I snapped a pic on my cellphone and got out of there.

When I got back to the familiar womb of my suburb, I found that my thoughts continue to be drawn back to that roadside marker, and away from the usual agenda of worries about drugs, and crooked politicians, and gangs, and globalization, and lawn care, and emerging diseases, and asshole school boards, and corporate robber barons.

That plaque in Hamilton County really bugs me.

I finally decided that I have to study this marker, to deconstruct it in detail, in hopes of getting rid of the damned thing. Unfortunately, results follow:

By 1860 had 489 people...

The sign doesn't mention it, but the 1860 census shows that 26 of the 489 were slaves (there were no Free Coloreds). That's about 5.3% - I think that was pretty typical in Texas at the time. Slave-owning was a ritzy upscale aspiration for people who used tallow-egg candles and coffee substitues (eww).

Vote in 1861 was 86-1 in favor of secession.

God only knows how many citizens were eligible to vote, but it was probably about 87.

The writer seems to be emphasizing the strong Confederate sympathy in the county, but there is no mention of slaves. Curious.

60 farmers were organized as Hamilton County Minute Men, a unit of part-time soldiers. Others joined Confederate regiments, and fought at Vicksburg, Shiloh, and other memorable battles.

That sounds like everybody in the county was fighting the Civil War, but the Hamilton County Minute Men were exempted from Confederate military service. It seems that the Union Army withdrew from its Injun-fightin forts in Texas, and those Minutemen guys had to ride and shoot locally, to protect the Hamilton County settlements from Native American incursions. They really did have to. White Man's hold on that area was still violently contested. However, the sign writer obscures that, and subtly associates the Minutemen with "Vicksburg, Shiloh, and other memorable battles". The wording is technically accurate, but misleading, like most of Bushco's early talk track about 9/11 and Iraq. Curious, too.

Horses, oxen, logs, creeks, acres, homemade wooden tools, corn, and wheat.

This is standard Historical Marker copy. Hardy, those pioneers.

On burned-over ground, each family grew its own tobacco, hanging the leaves inside the living room to dry.

Cheez, this sounds like Pearl S. Buck or something. Nice wordsmithing. We get the point. Hardy they were indeed, and red, red of neck.

Coffee substitutes and tallow-filled eggshells.

Yes, in their hand-hewn cabins. This is stern reality, baby. Those guys were hardy.

With few men on hand to brand and herd, feuds rose over thefts and straying cattle.

The few men still at home were pissy bitches.

In differences over war issues, two men fled [ED: fled, I want you to know] to join Federals. Later they returned, trying to recruit neighbors into a unit disloyal to Texas, to welcome planned Federal invasion.

DISLOYAL TO TEXAS! That must have been the bastard who voted against secession and his no-count nephew. I'm sure nothing came of their dastardly plot, but I can't tell you the kind of snakes you have to put up with when your Eden is Hamilton County.

Further trouble came from many Confederate deserters who took refuge along the streams and lived by theft and violence.

Villains every one, but disloyal only to the Confederacy, not necessarily to Texas. Still worth the trouble to string up, I suppose.


The text's acreage is divided into thirds - one for the "memorable" Confederateness of the county, one for the toughness of its pioneers, and one for the pesky, evil nature of the non-Confederates. Fully two thirds of the sign is devoted to puffing up the Confederacy and demonizing its opponents.

In fairness, I must point out that the marker was erected in 1965. The writer was certainly working in a drastically different environment then. "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama was in 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. The Voting Rights Act. Watts Riots.

Still, the sign stands in 2007, emblazoned with the imprimatur of the State of Texas.

According to the 2000 census, the contemporary African American population of Hamilton County is 0.3%. Slaves are way down, and Free Coloreds are up (slightly) since 1860.

Hey, it's a step in the right direction.

As I feared, this ended up sounding like a slam against Hamilton County, Texas. I truly did not intend that. I don't know Hamilton County, and it doesn't know me. For all I know, it's a rural oasis of progressive thought. It's just that blasted sign that I want to get out of my head.

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