Each Texan has a story to tell. Each story comprises one thread in the special tapestry that is the Lone Star State. Some threads seem to sparkle especially bright, glowing with special passion. Following are eight such Texas stories. Though not household names, these Texans are respected in their fields. By virtue of talent, good luck, and fortitude, they have done extraordinary things. Each story is unique, yet together they reflect an enduring commitment to sense of place.
Award-winning Austin choreographer Allison Orr is lifting the old Texas saying—dance with the one that brung ya—to new heights. During the past decade, the founder of Forklift Danceworks (and dance professor at Austin Community College) has convinced groups of ordinary folks—from firefighters to roller skaters—to perform choreographed dances that reflect their lives and common humanity.
Tourism in the mountain west got a boost in 1930 with the opening of two nearly identical sister hotels designed by famed El Paso architect Henry C. Trost. Hotel Paisano in Marfa and Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn embodied elegant Spanish baroque style for decades. In the 1950s, the Paisano even housed actors James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson during the filming of the now-classic movie Giant. By the early 2000s, though, the Paisano lay abandoned, and El Capitan was a bank. Then native West Texans Joe and Lanna Duncan bought the venerable lodgings and spent years restoring them. Today the Paisano boasts 41 well-appointed rooms, and El Capitan 38. Both offer stylish restaurants, bars, and gift boutiques. For the Duncans, it was déjà vu all over again.
Tom Perini grew up in Abilene in the ’50s, but spent weekends on his family’s ranch 15 miles south at Buffalo Gap. He loved cowboying—being outside, working with cattle, and cooking for the hands. Perini was so good at cooking steaks that other ranchers, including Watt Matthews of the famous Lambshead Ranch in Albany, asked him to cater their shindigs. Matthews even steered Perini’s career from raising beef to cooking it. In 1983, Tom Perini turned the ranch’s hay barn, at the end of a long dirt road, into the rustic Perini Ranch Steakhouse.
Most families start with a love story, but not many start like Lareatha Clay’s. Two centuries ago, in Kentucky and Tennessee, her great-great-great-grandparents, Jim and Winnie, were born into slavery. They ended up on a Mississippi plantation and fell in love. When a Texas farmer bought Winnie and the two were separated, Jim ran away to find her, trekking 400 miles under cover of night. After weeks of searching, he found her at a spring gathering water. Winnie convinced her owner to buy Jim, and after Emancipation Jim and Winnie Shankle became prominent landowners in the Newton County freedman’s town of Shankleville.
At age 86, Mary Kemp takes the long view about bluebonnets and history. For more than 30 years she has cultivated both on 220 acres in Mt. Nebo Valley south of Weatherford. Amid 20 acres of bluebonnets, she and her late husband, V. Kemp Jr., created a frontier village featuring a dozen replica structures anchored by the 1856 Thomas J. Shaw log cabin. Since 1980, period-dressed volunteers have welcomed thousands of visitors each spring to the Shaw-Kemp Open House.
Donna shaver first glimpsed the Gulf of Mexico in 1980, arriving at Padre Island National Seashore as a college student to study the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. She soon dedicated her career to saving the smallest of the Gulf’s five species of sea turtles.
In Spanish, “conjunto” means “together.” Conjunto is also a lively musical style born on the Texas-Mexico border in the early 1900s. Conjunto blends German traditions of the button accordion with Mexican traditions of the bajo sexto 12-string guitar and the contrabajo string bass.
When 53-year-old Loncito Cartwright says his family came to Texas before the war, he means the Texas Revolution of 1835-36. The original Texas Cartwrights came to East Texas in the 1820s and eventually owned a million acres across the state. In 1915 the family acquired land near Dinero, 50 miles northwest of Corpus Christi, and named it Twin Oaks Ranch. During the past decade, Cartwright has steered the 6,000-acre cattle operation in a new direction—raising grass-fed, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free lamb.
As the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the deep South, Barbara Jordan faced adversity on her road to success, but she did not let society’s limits define her. Born on February 21, 1936, Jordan grew up in the Fifth Ward of Houston while segregation still gripped the state. Her father, Benjamin, was a Baptist minister and raised Jordan and her two sisters with strong moral values. But it was Jordan’s maternal grandfather, John Ed Patten, who shaped her characteristic traits of confidence and perseverance.
With her passing in 1996, Barbara Jordan became the first African American to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, an honor for which she advocated for African Americans while in the Texas State Senate. Her grave rests behind that of Stephen F. Austin. Call 512/463-0605.
Barbara Jordan’s booming voice and unparalleled oratorical skills cemented her place among the great speakers of our history. Known for her inspiring words, Jordan spoke for commencements, conferences, keynote addresses, and news articles. Here are a few of our favorite quotes from the former state Senator.