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.
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.