The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

August 25, 1995, Columns

Bragging about your state being first
is one of the stereotypes of a Texan. Who's to say Texans don't have the right to brag a little? The Lone Star State does, after all,have an impressive list of firsts.

Let's start at the entrance to the King Ranch (above), where a steamboat captain claimed the birthplace of the modern Amerzican ranching industry. Besides introducing many new ranching techniques, the South Texas ranch bred the first Santa Gertrudis cattle, and is now the largest cattle operation in the world. Centuries ago, the Spanish missionaries at Mission Espiritu Santo laid claim to the first large cattle ranch in Texas near what is now Goliad, with an estimated 40,000 head.

What the missionaries were planning to do with all those cows is unclear, since it wasn't until 1885 that Fletcher Davis invented the hamburger in Athens, Texas. (This distinction in disputed, however - towns in Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, and New York all claim the same title.) With ranching came rodeos. Pecos claims to have staged the first rodeo on July 4, 1883, while San Antonio asserts that Texas Ranger Jack Hays staged the first rodeo in their town. Fort Worth held the first indoor rodeo in Will Rogers Memorial Center in 1917; the city also held the first bull-riding contest at Cowtown Coliseum.

Oil is a part of the Texan legend, of course, and the first gusher of the modern petroleum era was struck at Spindletop in 1901, just outside Beaumont. The first gusher on University of Texas land was the Santa Rita in West Texas in 1923. (Santa Rita was also the name of another Austin first: the first public housing project in the U.S., built in 1939.) The Scarbrough Building at Sixth and Congress was the first air-conditioned retail store west of the Mississippi.

The oil industry changed the Gulf Coast forever, making it the largest concentration of petrochemical plants in the world. The Coast was also the site of the first "National Seashore," and the Padre Island Causeway was the first pre-stressed concrete bridge in the U.S.

It is not surprising that Houston spawned the first auto-wrecking yard in the U.S., Johnny Franch Auto Parts. In 1965, the first professional baseball game was played indoors at the Astrodome, and the first home run in the stadium was hit by Mickey Mantle.

The first African in Texas was Estevanico, a companion of Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, and a black Union soldier named M. Holland was the first native Texan to win the Medal of Honor. Texas' first African-American legislator, Richard Allen, was elected from Houston in 1869.

But at that time, Texas was not always so kind to blacks. The first African-American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy was court-martialed at Fort Davis in 1881. Bessie Coleman had to leave East Texas to become the world's first black female aviator in 1921. "Queen Bess" received her pilot's license in France, and was buried in Chicago in 1926. In 1995 she was honored on a U.S. postage stamp.

The first African-American elected mayor of a major Texas city was Ron Kirk in Dallas, just last year. Bev Kearney, UT women's track coach, was the first woman and first African-American elected president of the NCAA Track Coaches Association.

The first train robbery in Texas was pulled off by Sam Bass in Allen, north of Dallas. The first known use of military vehicles as offensive weapons occurred near Pampa in the Panhandle, when Lt. Frank Baldwin used 23 mule-drawn wagons loaded with foot soldiers to charge an Indian war party, earning his second Medal of Honor.

Coming up this weekend...

The Hill Country Flyer is offering special travel packages to Fall Creek Vineyards for the Grape Stomp Harvest Celebration in Tow. The excursion steam train leaves Cedar Park at 10am, Aug. 26. 512/477-8468.

Grape Stomp at Hill Country Cellars in Cedar Park celebrates harvest time with live Cajun music, Aug. 26-27. 512/259-2000.

Gillespie County Fair in Fredericksburg celebrates its 107th birthday this year with a carnival including livestock and entertainment, Aug. 25-27. 210/997-2359.

Coming up...

Salute to Elias Howe, the inventor of the first practical sewing machine, takes place at the Antique Sewing Machine Museum in Arlington, Sept. 1-30. 817/275-0971.

Marfa Lights Festival in Marfa takes place around the courthouse in Marfa and is highlighted by a tour of the phenomena after dark, Sept. 1-3. 915/729-4942.

- Gerald E. McLeod

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