Wayback Wednesday

Did Texas Host the First Thanksgiving?

Nov 23, 2016
Courtesy of the University of Texas at El Paso Library, via Jose Cisneros

It's common knowledge that in 1621 the first Thanksgiving was celebrated at Plymouth. 

But some say the “real” first Thanksgiving took place over 20 years before near present day El Paso, when at least 400 Spaniards, in an exploration led by Juan de Oñate, feasted with the Mansos tribe.

Like any good Thanksgiving discussion, there’s a thread of discord sown through that narrative. While everyone recognizes its importance in the history of North America, some argue that, unlike the feast at Plymouth, it’s not a harvest festival.

Courtesy of Jim Nicar

Bevo, the bovine booster of the University of Texas Longhorns, is a nearly century-old institution.

There have been 14 incarnations of the mascot, with the 15th making its game-day debut this Sunday at the Longhorns’ opener against Notre Dame. But Bevo wasn’t always a beloved fixture on the sidelines.

In fact, people kind of hated him.

Austin American-Statesman

In 1966, Gordon Knight quite literally dodged a bullet.

The longtime Austin American-Statesman newspaper salesman should’ve been walking his usual beat on the west side of UT Austin on August 1, when Charles Whitman opened fire from his perch on the UT Tower. But he wasn’t, and late that morning, a bullet from Whitman’s rifle found another newsboy: 17-year-old Alex Hernandez.

Illustration by Tom Lea

One hundred eight years ago, Harper Baylor Lee’s hobby became something more than that.

The 24-year-old worked for the Central Mexican Railroad in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he’d spent most of his life after a move from El Paso. But on a Tuesday in July, after years as an amateur, he started a career in bullfighting and became the first American-born matador. 

Watch: Footage of '58 Barton Springs Flood Surfaces

Jul 20, 2016
Austin History Center, PICA 22684

The “Godzilla” El Niño that brought plenty of rainfall to Austinand record flooding to parts of Central Texas – last year is no more, and Austinites are settling into the oppressive heat that accompanies a dry Central Texas summer. Luckily, Austinites have Barton Springs Pool. But, 60 years ago, waves of floods over two summers shuttered the pool to summertime swimmers, and recently unearthed footage offers a glimpse of one of those deluges. 

Today is the birthday of sorts for Texas’ favorite brain tonic: Dr Pepper.

The first DP was served in 1885 in a Waco pharmacy by proto-soda jerk Charles Alderton, and years later the “King of Beverages” quickly gained a grassroots following throughout the southwest after its recipe began being distributed out of Dublin, Texas.

Austin History Center, PICA 01090

Well, it’s summer. And, if there are any certainties in this life, you’re bound to hear people complaining about the heat – you’re also likely to see a smattering of summer recipes, as well as tips for beating the heat. So what sage wisdom did Austinites of summers past have to offer? What were Victorian-era Austinites' summer complaints?

Why Nobody Knows Who Designed the Texas Flag

Jun 15, 2016
flickr/ctj71081

Well, yesterday was flag day – a day that marks the anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. flag, Betsy Ross' famed stars and stripes design.

But, if you’re a Texas history buff, or if you’ve been to a location of a popular, national theme park, you’ll know that Texas has had six flags fly over it. Perhaps the most recognized, however, is the state’s iconic Lone Star Flag, the state’s current flag. 

The problem is, like Betsy Ross’ design, nobody can say for sure who designed the Lone Star flag, and there’s been a fight for decades about whom, if any one person, did.  

Starting in 1869, the timeline below chronicles past floods that hit the Austin area.

Austin History Center, PICA 00916

The dog days of summer are nipping at Austin’s collective heel and – though the shuttered city pools and recent gloomy weather in Austin may tell you differently – it’s pool season. And, while you may not be able to bring a beer or even your dog to a city pool, at least the city’s not still regulating the attire of every single swimmer, like it did when it passed the 1919 bathing suit ordinance.

A Look at Texas Through Russell Lee's Lens

May 25, 2016
Russell Lee, Library of Congress

What do Ada Lovelace, Adolf Hitler, Kanye West, Donald Trump, Elisabet Ney and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson all have in common? At one point, they were all in the running to replace Robert E. Lee as the namesake of a Hyde Park elementary school. 

Earlier this week, the Austin School Board finally decided on someone to replace the Confederate general: Russell Lee, the nationally lauded photographer. He moved to Austin in 1947 and established UT Austin’s photography department, serving as its first instructor. Below are a few of Lee's photographs from his time in Central Texas. 

Austin History Center PICA-26317

Austin’s in a new era of ridesharing. In the exhaust of Uber and Lyft’s departures, a salvo of ride-hailing providers (some app-based and others not) are vying to fill the pothole left by their industry standard-bearing predecessors. Some of those providers and their practices have been questioned, with some calling current options “gypsy cabs” – like the proto-ride-hailer SideCar was in 2013. But in the early 20th century, the unlicensed ride-hailers were called bootleg cabs and the city’s 14-year fight with them helped galvanize its extensive taxi regulations.

A Look Back at Some of Texas' Traffic-Related PSAs

May 11, 2016
Texas Archive of the Moving Image

This week we’re examining Austin’s record-breaking number of traffic fatalities in 2015. But, the issues of pedestrian safety, fatal crashes and roadway engineering are, obviously, not new issues when it comes to public safety on Austin’s roadways.

Here’s a look back at some vintage PSAs involving vehicle, pedestrian and bike safety. 

Austin History Center

Today's Wayback Wednesday looks back at Austin's onetime Victorian-era literary magazine, The Rolling Stone. The DIY-minded rag published short stories, cartoons and other Onion-esque items, but it is largely known as the first creative sandbox for its publisher, William Sydney Porter.

Porter, a North Carolina transplant who moved to Austin in the late 1880s, worked as a druggist and as a clerk at the General Land Office before he took a job at the First National Bank as a teller. It was during his time as a teller that he started The Rolling Stone in 1894. 

Courtesy of Jesse Sublett

Today’s podcast edition of Wayback Wednesday starts, like many Texas stories, with football. It also ends with football, but in the middle it’s got most of the things those other football stories don’t have: an amazing crime spree, with burglaries, bare-knuckle brawling, prostitution, federal investigations and a couple of murders. And it all starts with a kid from East Austin named Timmy Overton.

The Thresher, via Texas Portal to History

Believe it or not, Tuesday was National Deep Dish Pizza Day. Yes, apparently that's a thing. Blink and you miss it, right?

It’s a dish that’s best known as “Chicago-style” pizza for obvious reasons. But, the popular pie didn’t necessarily arise from the town from whence it sprung. Its roots go deeper south, and it wouldn’t have existed without the guiding hand of a former Texas Longhorn: Ike Sewell.

Carlos Lowry via Flickr

Mention the lowly-but-ubiquitous grackle to an Austinite, and you'll likely elicit a binary, typically love/hate, response. Unlike the city’s other winged mascot, the bat, which is more or less tolerated by some and celebrated by others, the grackles of Austin have been hunted, hated, loved and praised since their migration here more than a century ago.

Neal Douglass, via Austin History Center, ND-66-290-01

On Thursday, the next Batman movie will hit screens in Austin. While it’s technically a Superman movie, the Dark Knight’s top billing in “Batman v. Superman” and some of the early reviews intimate otherwise. But, nearly 50 years ago, the Caped Crusader’s first film outing flew into Austin for its premiere.

A Look Back at Austin's Eternal Arguments

Mar 16, 2016
Frank Albrecht, via Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Austin, it seems, is locked in an eternal personality crisis. To some, it’s the greatest city in the world – a wellspring of natural beauty, good food and plenty of live music. To others, it’s an ever-expanding, traffic-plagued, corporate-sponsored city that’s not as good as it used to be.

Texas History Center

In honor of Texas Independence Day, this week we’re looking back at the mystery of the Texas Constitution. 

The mystery being that, after 180 years, it doesn't technically have one in effect, because the State of Texas has never formally recognized one of the many versions of its constitution.


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