OAKVILLE – Enchanting music and classic stories spun in cowboy — and cowgirl — style by those reciting the works of J. Frank Dobie — and original works related to him — filled the cool night air on Friday, Nov. 1, at the ninth annual Dobie Dichos held in historic Oakville.
The setting couldn’t have been better with the 1854 Oakville Courthouse/Jail and numerous buildings from decades long past serving as the backdrop, courtesy of Albert and Mari Davila, who own the historic property.
“If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” said Mary Margaret Campbell, introducing the last event officially sponsored by George West Storyfest Inc.
After music by Trish Hinojosa, master of ceremonies William Jack Sibley introduced the speakers who enthralled the audience with stories of Texas folklore — and Sibley stumped the guests with a variety of thought-provoking questions.
Sergio Troncoso started off the night with a presentation that provided Dobie’s thoughts against censorship and his reflections on a pair of Texas barbecues 60 years apart.
“Censorship is never to let people learn but always to keep them in ignorance,” Troncoso said, reciting Dobie’s views — and his own.
Troncoso then read a work of Dobie’s that recalled barbecues in Live Oak County during his childhood, and one at a Lyndon Baines Johnson’s ranch in the early 1960s.
Dobie recalled enjoying lemonade for a nickel a glass at the barbecue of his childhood, but noticed that while the musicians at the event were two or three Hispanic men, the rest of the audience in those days was white.
“For days and nights afterward (the Texan) music would haunt me,” Troncoso read, repeating Dobie’s thoughts. “No Mexicans except musicians or laborers would be at the event.”
Dobie noted that the Mexican-American’s music and culture were accepted long before white and Hispanic society became integrated.
Dobie compared that event to a United Nations delegation at LBJ’s ranch in 1963 in which people of all colors and ethnicities from all around the world were enjoying fellowship — and quality Texas barbecue.
Sue Kuentz, a longtime elementary schoolteacher in San Antonio, told a story of Dobie’s, “The Stranger of Sabine Pass.”
The story focused on a mysterious stranger who appeared night after night at a remote settlement on the Sabine River, who finally admitted to the homeowner what his purpose was. The man was searching for long-lost treasure that had been buried nearby, and offered the homeowner a 50 percent share if he would help find it.
After their efforts failed to uncover the hidden wealth, the former pirate finally gave up and moved east, asking the Texan to contact him if the treasure was ever found.
Finally, one day it was, and the homeowner forgot all about any plans to contact the former pirate who originally hid the treasure. As might be expected in such a tale, tragedy struck after the treasure was separated and re-hidden in various locations, and the Texas settler from Ireland died. He alone had known the whereabouts of that secret stash.
The story has enthralled people for generations, and true or not, it has sparked numerous treasure hunts in the area.
Sarah Bird, a transplanted Texan who grew up living in several different places because of her family’s military background, reflected on her stay at the Paisano Ranch which Dobie once owned and then donated to the University of Texas as a writers’ retreat.
It was during her time at Dobie’s former home that Bird was inspired — or haunted, as she might put it — to write the story of Cathy Williams, a woman who disguised herself and served as a member of the Buffalo Soldiers — an African-American unit that helped protect the plains from marauding Indians who swept through and devastated white settlements.
Chip Dameron was also visited by a ghost, so to speak, this one of Dobie himself. He also stayed at Dobie’s Paisano Ranch and was inspired to write “Mornings With Dobie’s Ghost.”
“It seemed like his spirit was still emanating from his memorabilia and home,” Dameron noted. “I adopted his voice and let his ghost speak to me, metaphorically.”
He said immersing himself in Dobie’s writings and the ranch that he cherished helped inspire these “conversions” between Dobie and himself.
Scott McMahon, a historical re-enactor and director of Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, told Dobie’s story of Mabry “Mustang” Gray, a man and Texas Ranger who was stranded on foot in hostile territory often traveled by Mexican bandits and hostile Comanches.
An enterprising a self-sufficient man, Gray devised a plan to catch a wild mustang at a watering hole while he waited in a tree, and then took the time to somewhat domesticate the animal so he could ride back to civilization.
Celeste Walker, whose father grew up with the stories of J. Frank Dobie and other Texas cowboys, talked about the legacy of Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight, who moved cattle north with his partner Oliver Loving, and who became an admirer of the Comanche warriors who sparked fear on the plains.
Walker was asked how history can be preserved and passed down in a vibrant way that goes beyond dry academia.
“I think it’s with stories,” Walker said. “That’s why I feel like I know ranch life, although I’m a city girl. That’s a prime way to keep history alive.”
David Vickers, a former Texas history teacher in Beeville, read Dobie’s story of “Big Foot Wallace and the Hickory Nuts.”
Wallace, an imposing and powerful man who served as a Texas Ranger, had his horses stolen by a band of Comanches — all except for one that he used to track the Indians.
Severely outnumbered and armed with a musket that would only allow one shot while Comanches used a bow and arrow that could fire several shots in the same amount of time, Wallace had to use his wits to try and rescue his horses.
Finally tracking the men down and seeing them cook one of his prize colts, Wallace, in Dobie’s story, noticed a large amount of hickory nuts on the ground and proceeded to stuff his shirt, pants and hat with them.
He shot some of the Comanches, who were at first stunned and then angrily swarming in his direction.
The Comanches were once again surprised to see a figure inflated to epic proportions by the large quantity of hickory nuts, and they fired off every arrow they possessed at that strange vision.
The nuts cushioned Wallace, stopping the arrows from penetrating them and reaching Wallace’s body, and the Indians finally just went away — leaving Wallace’s horses, in this Texas tall tale.
Vickers was asked if such stories distort Texas history, or enhance it.
“I’d say they enhance it,” Vickers said. “I think tall tales are the essence of who (early Texas heroes) are.”
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or email@example.com.