Thursday, February 23, 2012

Langtry, Texas & LBJ Ranch

Wed. Feb. 15th - Tue, Feb. 21st

Leaving Marathon we headed southeast on Hwy. 90 to Langtry where the infamous Judge Roy Bean was known as "The Law West of the Pecos". This beautiful Visitor Center was built when the county turned over the property to the state. Langtry was a booming little West Texas town in 1882 when it was renamed for George Langtry, leader of one of the railroad building crews. In 1920 the railroad was rerouted. Now this is a pretty typical scene, here and many places across Texas. There can't be more than 20 people living here now. There's a couple decent houses, a post office, church, trading post and this Visitor Center. Kind of reminds me of where I grew up.

The original Jersey Lilly served as saloon, billiard hall, courtroom and home until it burned down in 1896. He rebuilt this smaller version and built a home for himself which he called "The Opera House", in hopes that he could get the famous British actress, Lillie Langtry, to visit. He was obsessed with her and wrote her many letters over the years, but he never met her. She finally came to visit in 1904, ten months after his death. The adobe blocks in his house were made from dirt, horse and sheep manure, plant fiber and small animal bones. Judge Bean dispensed hard liquor and harsh justice. Fiction became so intermingled with fact, he became a legend in his own time. Court was often held on the porch with spectators on horseback. Lawyers were not allowed to interfere with his court, but breaks for refreshments from his saloon were allowed. He seldom consulted his Law Book, instead using his own ideas about the brand of justice to apply, with liberal amounts of bluff and bluster. There was no jail, so criminals were just tied to a tree till they were sober enough for trial. All crimes were deemed finable and the judge pocketed the fines. They have his walking stick in the visitors center. It is ornately detailed with carvings of General Custer and Wild Bill Hickok. He got some notoriety for outfoxing both the U.S. and Mexican governments, by holding an outlawed boxing match in the middle of the Rio Grande.

That afternoon we arrived at LBJ's "Little White House" near Stonewall on the Pedernales River. We toured the house which was originally just a two-story stone house with one room on the main floor (right corner of the house), when he convinced his widowed aunt to move into town and sell it to him along with 250 acres. The home was where his extended family gathered for holidays and celebrations when he was a boy. Over the years the ranch grew to more than 2,000 acres. His love of ranching led him to purchase or lease over 9,000 acres in various counties throughout Hill Country. He brought world leaders to his ranch for Texas BBQs with locals, friends, family and associates, using his home turf to his advantage in negotiations.

Lyndon attended this Johnson City School when he was four years old for a few months. There were 30 students in 7 grades. He remembered sitting on the lap of Miss Kate, the teacher. This school always symbolized to him the hardships of getting an education in America. A half century later in 1965, in this school house with Miss Kate at his side, he signed a bill committing $1.5 billion to Americas schools, one of more than 60 education bills he signed during his presidency. He said no bill he would ever sign would mean more to the future of America. Due to the poverty he saw growing up, he was a great supporter of education and civil rights. As Majority Leader in 1957 he got the first civil rights bill passed in 82 years, probably his greatest accomplishment. He also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is the Pedernales, meaning flint rocks, which the Indians used to make many of their tools. This is next to the school and looking toward the family cemetery. It was a very rainy, drizzly day.

This is the Johnson Family Cemetery. The straight row of brown stones from right to left are LBJ's grandparents, his father and mother, the President and Lady Bird (the two taller stones), and his siblings and their spouses. Various other extended family members are also buried here.

Across the road is LBJ's birthplace. The original house was built by his grandfather in 1889 and removed in 1940. The Johnsons had it rebuilt in 1964 as a guest house. He was born in 1908, the first born of five. His father was a state legislator. When he was five years old they moved into Johnson City, where he graduated high school at the age of 15. Johnson City was named for James Polk Johnson, a distant relative.

The other direction from the cemetery is the Trinity Lutheran Church. His family was not Lutheran, but attended occasionally. Next to the church is Stonewall's Project Head Start Building, one of the many programs that transformed the education system in the 1960s. After he retired, LBJ would drop by here with candy for the kids. They called him "Mr. Jelly Bean".

In 1953 he put in a 3,000 foot airstrip for easier access to the ranch during flooding. By 1961 when he was starting out as vice-president, it had been extended to 6,300 feet to accomodate the increasing size of aircraft. LBJ was the first vice-president to have an aircraft assigned to him, a Lockheed Jet-Star C-140B (VC) which was jokingly referred to as Air Force 1/2.

He liked to tour people around the ranch driving along the river and make a sudden sharp turn right into the river. There was a concrete road under the spillway.

He also had a car at one time that he could drive in the water. The car dealer in Austin was a very good friend, as he bought a big, fancy, new car from him every year.

This was at the Living History Farm that is also on the ranch. It was once owned by friends of his grandparents. One of their children was midwife at LBJ's birth. His grandparents settled near Johnson City in the late 1860s and were the first and most successful of the Hill Country cattle drovers. They amassed a fortune, but later lost it and resettled along the Pedernales until their deaths in 1915 & 17.

Lady Bird's real name was Claudia Taylor. When she was a small child, a nanny said she was as cute as a lady bug, of the variety called "Lady Bird". Ever since then she was known as Lady Bird. When she married she became LBJ along with their daughters Linda Bird and Lucy Baines. Of course, she is famous for beautifying the highways and the country with wildflowers. One of the fundraisers they hold annually for the park is the LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour through LBJ Ranch and Texas Hill Country, in March when the wildflowers are in bloom. It must be a beautiful ride. The Secret Service was assigned to the Johnsons from 1961 when LBJ became vice-president until 2007 when Lady Bird died (46 years).

Trivia: The network of railroads across the nation reached it's peak in 1916 at 254,000 miles.

Friday evening thru Tuesday we visited John's cousin, Connie (& Daryl) in Austin. Thanks again for everything. Wednesday we headed for San Antonio.

Just cruisin' across the Lone Star State,


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