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Occasionally I run across interesting stories that have nothing to do with oil and gas, and I am somewhat of a Texas history buff. I came across this story in the most recent issue of the Journal of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society. My summary below is from the articles by John Browning, its Editor in Chief, and John Moretta, author of “William Pitt Ballinger: Texas Lawyer, Southern Statesman, 1825-1888” (Tex. State Hist. Ass’n 2000), and from Jason A. Gillmer, “Lawyers and Slaves: A Remarkable Case of Representation for the Antebellum South, published in the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review.

David Webster was a prominent citizen of Galveston in the years after Texas joined the union, accumulating substantial real estate holdings across the new state, including some 5,000 acres across East Texas. He never married, and he was a slave owner. Betsy, one of the slaves he first purchased when he lived as a young man in Mobile, Alabama, became his lifelong companion.

By 1840 David had moved to Florida and was listed in the census as owning 84 slaves. But he then lost most of his investments, including all of his slaves except Betsy, and in 1846 he moved with her to Galveston. David’s relationship with Betsy was described as “of the most intimate character.” David was an extraordinary character; he played the guitar and lute, was a ship’s carpenter in his early life, and was a leading Galveston businessman, a city then one of the most populous in the state and a growing seaport.

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“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”, as the poem was first called, was first published anonymously in New York’s Troy Sentinel newspaper on December 23, 1823. An college classmate from Troy, Jack Casey, recently told me of two trials in Troy over the authorship of the poem – the first, in 2013, resulting in a hung jury, and the second in favor of Henry Livingston Jr., a poet and farmer from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Jack and his lawyer buddies dreamed up the idea for the trial, based on the long-running controversy over whether Livingston or Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of Middle East and Greek literature and theology, was its author. They never met, and Moore did not take credit for the poem until long after Livingston had died. Moore is considered by most as the author, but Mary Van Deusen, a descendant of Livingston, claims her great great great great great grandfather as the author. Donald Foster, a forensic linguist and Vassar college English professor, wrote a book, Author Unknown, supporting Mary, but Stephen Issenbaum, professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an article in 2001 in defense of Moore.

ChristmasTrialArtSo, my classmate Jack Casey and his lawyer friends in Troy decided to try the matter in a court of law. Here’s the website describing the two trials, with pictures and everything. Livingston was declared the author by six jurors in the 2014 retrial, presided over by retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward O. Spain. Among the witnesses were the ghosts of Henry Livingston Jr., and Clement Clarke Moore. Over objections to ghosts taking the stand, Casey declaimed “If they can vote in Troy, they can testify,” referring to a long history of voter fraud involving deceased residents of Troy (depicted in Casey’s historical novel about a famous murder trial in Troy, The Trial of Bat Shea). Joining the two sides were Chris Post, a descendant of Moore, and Mary Van Deusen, Livingston’s descendant.

A version of the trial will be shown on the Hallmark Channel on December 17 and 18, although Casey did not get a part.

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Sometimes lawyers really do have the best responses.  The following is just one example.

Rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina often caused residents to be challenged to prove home titles back hundreds of years. That is because of community history stretching back over two centuries during which houses were passed along through generations of family, sometimes making it quite difficult to establish a paper trail of ownership.

A New Orleans lawyer sought a FHA rebuilding loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted upon submission of satisfactory proof of ownership of the parcel of property as it was being offered as collateral. It took the lawyer 3 months, but he was able to prove title to the property dating back to 1803. After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply.

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In 1860, at the age of 60, Joseph Glidden invented barbed wire. He patented it the next year and sold the patent in 1876 to a company named Washburn and Moen, retaining a royalty that made him one of the richest men in the US.

220px-John_Warne_GatesJohn Warne Gates was born in Chicago in 1855. After several failed business, Gates became a salesman for Washburn and Moen. They gave him Texas as his sales territory. To show the benefits of barbed wire Gates set up a demonstration at the San Antonio Military Plaza. He built a barbed-wire pen and placed 100 head of cattle in the pen, who were run full speed into the fencing; the fence held. He sold lots of barbed wire for Washburn and Moen, then started his own successful wire business, which he later sold to JP Morgan’s US Steel. So he got in the steel business, forming Republic Steel, and invented a new process to purify iron called the open-hearth process.

In 1900, Patillo Higgins was drilling a well at a place called Spindletop, near Beaumont. He ran out of money, and Gates Gusher_at_Port_Arthur_Texas_1901eventually invested $590,000 into the project. On January 10, 1901 the well blew in and spewed 100,000 barrels of oil a day for nine days. The company Gates invested in, the Texas Company, which later became Texaco. Gates became its president.

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I ran across an article recently in the Journal of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society about James V Allred, who succeeded the infamous Miriam “Ma” Ferguson as Governor of Texas in 1935. The Article, “Texas Troubles: Governor Allred and His Rangers Defy Jim Crow,” by Jody Edward Ginn, Ph.D. (Executive Director of the Texas Rangers Heritage Center in Fredericksburg), is excerpted from his book East Texas Troubles: The Allred Rangers’ Cleanup of San Augustine. In it he chronicles Allred’s depoliticizing and professionalizing of the Texas Rangers (he fired all but three of Ma Ferguson’s five thousand Rangers) and his clean-up of San Augustine, at that time run by a criminal gang “who built their power exploiting Jim Crow limitations on African American Texans’ access to the courts,” with the help of his new Rangers. In three trials in 1935 and 1936, three all-white juries convicted members of the gang of felony crimes against African American victims, based exclusively on the testimony of black victims and witnesses and the Rangers’ investigations.

Reading about Jimmy Allred sparked a memory about a case our firm handled years ago, which I will relate momentarily. First, a little more about Allred.

James V (no period, that’s his name) Allred was born in Bowie, Texas in 1899, went to Rice, served in the Navy, and graduated from Cumberland University law school in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1921. He served as Texas’ Attorney General 1931-34 and Governor 1934-39. He was a progressive Democrat in the model of Franklin Roosevelt. After his stint as Governor Allred served on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, taking the bench at the age of forty. He resigned his judgeship in 1942 to pursue an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, losing to Pappy Lee O’Daniel. Roosevelt nominated him for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1942, but he was not confirmed. He was later again appointed as Judge for the Southern District in 1949, where he served until his death in 1959.

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On this day in 1861 Georgia Senator Alexander Stephens gave a speech, known as the Cornerstone Speech, in Savannah Georgia, just after he became the provisional vice president of the Confederacy. Less than a month later the Confederates fired on a federal fort in Charleston Harbor, starting the Civil War.

Here are excerpts from his speech:

The new constitution [of the Confederacy] has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

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Katmai National Park on the Alaska Peninsula is the most remote of our national parks, accessible only by boat or plane. It is also prime habitat for bears.Katmai-map

Fat Bear Week is September 29 through Tuesday, October 5. The bears in Katmai are fishing for salmon to fatten up for the winter, and this week the are at their most rotund. Rangers create a bracket pitting indivudual bears against each other for the honor of being named champion Fat Bear, and the public then votes. Last year’s winner was the bear identified as 747, weighing in at 1400 pounds.747You can see the contestants and vote here: Here is the bracket (click to enlarge):

You can get before-and-after photos of the contestants, along with their biographies, here.  You can also watch live cams of bears feasting on Katmai’s website, here.

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Every once in a while I like to write about something other than oil and gas. I got these interesting facts about eggs from a friend.

  • The color of eggshells is solely dependent upon the breed of the chicken providing the eggs.  There is no difference in taste imparted by the color of the shell.
  • The “sell by” date specified on the packaging or eggshell itself is not an expiration date.  The eggs should be good for another 3 -5 weeks after the sell by date.  If you are unsure if the egg is good to eat, place it in some water in a glass.  If the egg remains at the bottom of the water, it is good to go.  If the egg inverts to a vertical position, eat that sucker now because it is just about over the hill.  If the egg rises to the top of the water and floats, chuck that thing.
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