Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa Claus in Camp

By Mary Adams

It is that time of the year when trees are decorated, people bustle around buying gifts for friends and family, children line up to sit on Santa’s lap and then anxiously await his late night visit on December 25. Texas Pacific Coal Company and its subsidiary, Texas Pacific Mercantile and Manufacturing Company, which operated the stores in town, provided special activities, treats, and shopping opportunities to Thurber residents.

Santa Claus and his toy shop were welcome visitors to Thurber during the holidays. The Texas Miner, December 22, 1894, announced “Santa Claus in Camp” in their advertisement which included a variety of gift items available for purchase at the hardware store along with the presence of “His royal highness, that venerable chum of ours, SANTA CLAUS.” By 1902 the wonderland of toys that became known as Toyland had been relocated. Ed E. Bryant recalled that “the whole top floor of the big old drugstore building was nothing but a display of toys. You talk about heaven, man. That was next to it. And we’d go up there and we’d just drool over those things.” Felicitas S. Salazar, who visited Toyland as a child, recalled that there was a large selection of toys “dolls, dishes – toy dishes, bicycles, tricycles and wagons.” Toys were not the only gift option at the drugstore, young Grace Groves’ remembered their collection of fine jewelry as a result of Christmas in 1908 when her foster father gave her a ring with a diamond chip and gave her foster mother a beautiful cameo pin which became a family heirloom.

Interior of Thurber hardware store.

In addition to the drugstore the mercantile store also carried gifts for the season. Their advertisement offered suggestions for purchase such as a “handsome Christmas Dress” for wives, mothers, and daughters or a “Nobby Suit of Clothes” for husbands, fathers, and sons. If clothing was not what you were looking for they also had furniture suggestions like a “cradles, high chairs, or bedroom sets.” Families took advantage of Christmas Dinner specials at the market which offered a variety of items including “fancy fatted turkey for $ .45 per lb, green beans for $.20 per lb, large fancy oysters for $.60 per pint.”

Some years the festivities included Community Christmas trees. The location of the tree varied, sometimes it was located on the quadrangle as indicated by an article in The Thurber Tiny Journal dated December 15, 1927 which announced, “Two big Christmas Trees are being planted on the Thurber square. They will be lit up with electric lights, ‘neverything. A Santa Claus will doubtless entertain you through the holidays.” Other years residents recall that it the tree was at the Opera House where “on one night all the parents and children would come and they would call their names out, and they’d go down and get their gifts from Santy Claus.”

Advertisement from the December 13, 1902 edition of the Thurber Journal.

Mary Jane Gentry recalled a special treat from the Texas Pacific Coal Company and its subsidiary T. P. M. & M. had of wishing its employees a Merry Christmas, “On Christmas Eve or possibly the day before, the company trucks would go up and down each street and boys would leave a Christmas package on each family’s front porch. These packages always included the same thing, oranges, apples, candy, and nuts; however, the day of delivery was still an exciting day for the children, who would wait impatiently for their arrival.” This and other festivities combined to make Christmas in Thurber “a pleasant custom that will always live in the memory of those who experienced it.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Only Wish I'd Done It Sooner: The Murder of a Brick Worker

By David Buster

On the night of May 18, 1911, John Woods of Thurber stayed the night with one Mrs. Alice Beatty of Millsap. Woods was there visiting Mrs. Beatty’s daughter and his paramour, Pearl Little. Pearl had been staying with her mother as she had recently separated from her husband.

Thurber Brick Kiln & Smokestack

Early the next morning, Woods left to catch the train to Weatherford. In route to the station, he encountered an old friend, Alfred Little. Woods and Little both worked in the Thurber brick plant. The men lived near one another with their families until the death of Woods’s wife, when he became a boarder in the Little household. Some might say this is where the trouble began. Alfred Little did not have reminiscing old times in mind when he met John Woods that fateful morning. No, Little was there to confront him about something else, something much more meaningful. Little felt Woods had done what no man should. He had violated the ancient “Code of Honor.”

On the morning of May 19, 1911, Alfred Little unloaded both barrels of a double-barreled shotgun into Woods’s unsuspecting body. The first shot entered his upper torso and stretched all the way down to his intestines. The second shot was even more brutal, tearing away part of Woods’s head. Needless to say, Alfred Little wanted to make sure he accomplished his task. After hearing the shots, Mrs. Little ran to the scene, throwing herself across the prostrate body of Woods, and weeping profusely. Her husband, Alfred, looked on and said nothing.

As time passed and news of the killing spread, a crowd converged on the area where Alfred Little watched over the dead body of John Woods. He stated that he had no regrets in killing Woods and was only sorry that he had not done so sooner. Little stood there approximately two hours, warning the spectators to keep their distance. To be sure that they would heed his command, Little kept both barrels of his shotgun loaded. He refused to surrender to any officer, except the Parker County Sheriff, fearing that if he handed himself over to anyone else he would be lynched by the gathering mob. When Sheriff Gilbert arrived at the crime scene, Little handed over his gun and was taken to the county jail in Weatherford. What appeared to be an open and shut murder case was about to become a very complicated ordeal all because of the “unwritten law.”

Up until 1973, according to Article 1220 of the Texas Penal Code, “A homicide is justifiable when committed by the husband upon the husband of anyone taken in adultery with the wife; provided the killing takes place before the parties to the act of adultery have separated.” However, in murder cases provoked by a spouse’s infidelity a “Code of Honor” or the “unwritten law” was often presented as a defense argument. Simply stated, the “unwritten law” is a hypothetical rule that a man who takes the life of his wife’s paramour or daughter’s seducer is not guilty of any criminal transgression.

Parker County District Court subpoena summoning Thurber residents to testify in the trial of Alfred Little.

The trial, in which Little’s attorneys would invoke the unwritten law as a line of defense, was sensational to say the least. Lasting over a week, the district court case summoned 185 witnesses with witness fees amounting to $617.73. Sixty-five of those subpoenaed were residents of Thurber and the number included Little’s and Woods’s co-workers, neighbors, boarders, and other acquaintances. In addition, the state called on Little’s mother-in-law, Alice Beatty, as a prosecuting witness. The witness, jury, and other miscellaneous fees ran the cost of the trial to almost $1,000. Almost one year after the incident, May 4, 1912, the jury in the Alfred Little-John Woods murder case reached its verdict. “We the jury find the defendant, Alf Little not guilty.”

Pearl and Alfred Little divorced after the Wood’s affair. Alfred lived in Thurber through the 1920s. With the closing of the Thurber Brick Company he moved to Schiller Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago where he found work at another brick yard. Pearl Little remarried Mr. Will Baxter and resided in Parker County before relocating to an assisted living facility in Fort Worth, where she lived until age 91.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Swine Flu vs. Spanish Flu

by Mary Adams

The move from summer to fall is accompanied by many changes. The air is damper, the temperatures are cooler, and the trees begin to change colors and lose their leaves. Some years the coming of fall brings other, less enjoyable, elements such as influenza. Often flu season is a minor occurrence which barely rates media. However, the Swine flu currently infecting the nation inspires daily reports of new cases and deaths attributed to it. Though it has been over ninety years, a flu pandemic has hit the United States before.

Thurber cemetery where some of the 1918 Spanish flu victims are buried.

In 1918 the Spanish flu ravaged the country causing approximately 650,000 deaths. The newspaper reports would sound familiar today. As the illness spread daily activities were curtailed by a general quarantine that prohibited “public gathering in houses”. The Dallas Morning News reported on October 17, 1918, that influenza cases were still increasing and the ban on “pictures shows, theaters, church, and school” had been extended indefinitely. Dr. Carnes, Dallas City health officer, further advised people to “Stay at home, unless it is absolutely imperative that you be on the streets. When outside wear heavy raincoats, overshoes and carry umbrellas” in order to prevent the spread of disease.

Headstone of Barbara Camfield, older sister of Bill Camfield aka Icky Twerp, died in Thurber during the early stages of the 1918 flu pandemic and is buried in Thurber Cemetery.

Starting on the East Coast in September 1918 the Spanish Flu worked its way across the United States and by October it had arrived in Thurber, Texas. While the exact number of deaths which resulted from the deadly virus are not known, Thurber residents did not escape its grip. Texas and Pacific Coal Company made sure their employees and their families had access to medical attention. During the epidemic two doctors, Dr. Binney and Dr. Baldridge, treated patients like Antonio Chiampi, a nineteen year old Italian coal miner who passed away on October 25. Dr. Baldridge also attended to the family of Pat Crawford, a coal miner, who lost his three year old son, Eugene, on October 20 followed by his twenty-eight year old wife, Ollie, on October 26, leaving him to raise his nine year old son alone.

T & P Coal Company doctors were not the only choice for Thurberites. Some residents went to nearby Mingus where Dr. John Spratt had a medical practice. In his memoir “Thurber Texas: Life and Death of a Company Coal Town” Dr. Spratt’s son recalled that his father’s patients were in good hands thanks to his expertise in such ailments going so far as to say he “treated scores of flu patients in the Mingus-Thurber area without a single fatality.” However, Anthony George, a fifteen year old of Assyrian descent who lived in Mingus, might disagree. Dr. Spratt signed his death certificate on November 1, 1918 citing that he succumbed to influenza. Just like today, sometimes the best physicians are helpless when it comes to treating the most virulent strains of influenza.

Palo Pinto County death certificate of influenza victim Anthony George (name transposed on certificate).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bootlegging in the Thurber Area

By special guest blogger
Gene Rhea Tucker
Doctoral student at University of Texas at Arlington

Thurberites drank beer, wine, and other spirits in great amounts. Miners and other laborers demanded that alcohol be available to slake their thirst and wet their parched throats, dusty from work in the mines and brickyards. Many of Thurber’s laborers hailed from nations and communities where consuming alcohol was a common occurrence and a regular pastime. The town, with many immigrant workers from Italy, Poland, Mexico, and several other countries, sat like a drinking island in a sea of prohibition.

Beginning in the 1890s and continuing until statewide prohibition of alcohol began in 1919, counties and towns across North Texas banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. The Texas and Pacific Coal Company, with its subsidiaries, ensured for several years that Thurber stayed “wet,” because the company made substantial sums of money in its two busy saloons, the Lizard and the Snake. Coal company officials published anti-prohibition pieces in the town newspaper, donated money to pro-wet organizations, and “suggested” that their workers vote for the “right” politicians. For Thurber, alcohol, whether legal or illegal, was an integral part of the culture—even the second president of the coal company, Edgar L. Marston, who was the son of a tee-totaling Baptist minister, accepted this.

Drinking and socializing in Thurber.

The denizens of Thurber made their own alcoholic beverages even before prohibition made the mere consumption of booze illegal. Though other groups probably created their own particular liquid refreshments, it was the Italians that earned the greatest renown as Thurber’s preeminent bootleggers. Thurber’s Italians made a well-remembered array of homemade beers, wines, and grappo, a form of distilled liquor flavored with the grape skins left over from winemaking. Beginning in the 1890s, the company grocery store ordered regular and large shipments of grapes, mainly for the Italian community. Once a year the mercantile would order several boxcars of red and white grapes and park them on a sidetrack in nearby Mingus. Victor Lucadello, who lived in Thurber as a youth, recalled:

The wine makers of Thurber would drive teams of mules or horses to Mingus and buy as many cases of grapes each needed and papa was no exception. It was indeed a be[e]hive of activity, as wagon after wagon would line up waiting to get their wagon loaded, and you know what, you guessed it, the greatest majority were Italians. Papa would dump a few boxes of grapes in a wine barrel he had cut in half and we kids would get in barefooted and stomp the grapes…. He always made at least three barrels of wine…

In 1900 authorities even arrested one Thurber man, Angelo Scalfi, for transporting twenty-six barrels of what he swore was just “grape juice.” Making their own alcohol allowed the Italians of Thurber to celebrate their traditions and earn a little extra cash.

Newspaper clipping from the 28 November 1900, edition of The Fort Worth Register.

When statewide prohibition began in 1919, the area around Thurber became a mecca for people seeking illegal liquor. Italian families built makeshift cellars beneath their homes to store, and hide, their illicit booze (as well as meats and cheeses). The best-seller was the strong, nearly 170 proof, distilled spirit grappo, made in large copper pots like whiskey. Dean Hiatt, who sampled the liquor in the 1920s, thought that it was “about 200 proof,” which would be 100 percent pure alcohol, because it was “smooth as silk” and “it’d just make everybody drunker than everything.” Soon a thriving bootlegging industry grew up in Thurber and the nearby town of Mingus, where many out-of-work Italian miners lived after the coal company became an oil company.

Local Thurber-Mingus bootleggers preferred to use ice from the Thurber Ice Plant for their booze-making, because the water used to make the ice was distilled and pure. Two bootleggers came into Thurber to purchase a dozen or so huge blocks of ice, which ran to a couple of tons. The manager of the ice plant refused to sell such a suspiciously large amount of ice to the two characters, saying: “I know what it’s for. It’s for bootleggers. And bootlegging is against the law.” The two men went to see Thurber’s general manager W. K. Gordon. Gordon called the ice plant manager, telling him: “…please understand that all ice we make is for sale to anybody, and it’s none of our business what it’s used for.”

Law enforcement officials kept up their pressure on the bootleggers in the Thurber area, though the booze makers often had advanced warning of these raids, and illegal alcohol was well-hidden or quickly disposed of by pouring it on the ground. However, authorities arrested several people for bootlegging in the 1920s. In May 1920, officers arrested three Italians after a short gunfight near Thurber’s Mine Number 2 a few miles west of town with thirty gallons of grappo and five hundred gallons of mash. In April 1920, lawmen raided one still, killing two men and arresting eight others, after a fierce battle. Only a year later, two of these eight arrested men were detained for the same offense. In November 1921 the Erath County Sheriff found and destroyed an impressive 2,200 gallons of fruit mash, 1,170 gallons of wine, and 790 gallons of homemade beer in Thurber, making ten arrests.

After the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company abandoned Thurber in the 1930s, ex-Thurberites and their descendants ensured that Mingus, just north of old Thurber, remained wet territory after national prohibition was repealed in 1933. Today several stores and bars in Mingus serve alcohol and weekends see numerous people from the area patronize local bars with names like the Boar’s Nest and the Mule Lip.

The Spoetzl Brewery is celebrating 100 years of Shiner Beer! Join us this October 18th at the Gordon Center for a book signing by Mike Renfro, author of Shine On: 100 Years of Shiner Beer, and a beer tasting with a brewer from Spoetzl. Admission is free, but reservations are required! Call 254-968-1886 for more information.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tiffin, Texas and Thurber Earthen Products: 1920-1935

By Mary Adams

In 1918 Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company required crushed rock and other road-making materials for its use and for sale to others. According to a 1927 Dallas Morning News article, they found just what they needed “in the midst of acres of rocks that had never been disturbed by man and were regarded as worthless.” For at least a decade the company, through its new subsidiary, Thurber Earthen Products, converted this rugged, rocky terrain into a productive enterprise and put Tiffin, Texas, on the map.

Specimen of the first stock certificates issued for the newly formed Thurber Earthen Products Company.

Prior to 1919, Tiffin, located about three miles northeast of Ranger, was little more than a switch on the Texas and Pacific Railway. It is believed that the name Tiffin came from an Irish member of the railroad construction gang who in 1880 “designated the spot as the place for tiffin (lunch).” Though it was never a large town, it seemed to maintain a steady population of fifty-five during the years that Thurber Earthen Products remained in business.

Construction on the rock crushing plant, which included some of the most modern and efficient quarry equipment in Texas, began early in 1920. In a letter dated July 15, 1920, Mr. Marston, claimed the plant was nearing completion and reported that it had the capacity to produce one thousand tons of crushed rock per day and employ fifty men. The future of the company looked promising. It was reported that the quarry contained an inexhaustible supply of rock and that large orders for crushed stone awaited the opening of the plant.

Letter from Edgar L. Marston to Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company stockholders inviting them to invest in Thurber Earthen Products.

The plant met its production expectations during the first four years of operation. However, change was on the horizon as the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company expanded its oil production and reduced its coal production. The demand for crushed stone decreased in 1923 and continued to drop as the Great Depression took its toll on the economy. By 1933 when Thurber Earthen Products’ parent company prepared to close the town of Thurber and move its offices to Fort Worth, the outlook for Tiffin was grim. In that year Edgar Marston reported that the rock crusher operated for only thirty-nine days during 1932. The situation further deteriorated until April of 1935 when the rock crusher was sold as salvage for $15,000.00. Tiffin has now returned to what it once was, rough and rocky terrain that is little more than a switch on the railroad line.

Photograph of employees taken in front of the Thurber Earthen Products Company at Tiffin, Texas. The following men are thought to be pictured below though their placement is unknown: Adolofo _________, Aponio Baiza, Jose Camacho, Leonardio Jimenez, Cruz Martines, Miguel Martinez, Pablo Mendoza, Angela Renteria, Mr. Robles, Jose Ruiez, and Valintine Valdez.

Friday, July 31, 2009

In the cockpit of “Arrowhead”

The Story of a Thurber Fighter Pilot
By David Buster

Audax Fortis et Fides–Bold, Brave, and Faithful–Motto for the 505th Fighter Squadron.

Originally from Tredegar, Wales, Thomas O. Thomas came to the United States with his brother Jack by way of Liverpool, England, on the passenger ship Carmania. They arrived at Ellis Island in New York Harbor on September 4, 1907. From there the Thomas brothers went to Missouri, where they had relatives. Sometime thereafter, Thomas made his way to Thurber and began work in the coal mines as an engineer. Initially he resided at the household of Xavier Kessler, where Thomas met his future wife, the teenaged Blanche Isabell Kessler. The two married on August 21, 1916. A little over a year later in Thurber, on November 10, 1917, Thomas and Blanche welcomed their first child, Kessler Oliver Thomas, into the world.

Kessler Thomas (left) as a child in Thurber, Texas.

The Thomas family held several distinctions in Thurber. Jack Thomas became a well known local boxer. Dubbed by the media “The Thurber Welshman,” Jack had several boxing matches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His most notable contest was a draw he fought against the prominent Fort Worth boxer, Bobby Waugh. The Kessler family also had an established position in Thurber society, as Blanche served as the maid of honor for the Thurber 1908 Labor Day parade.

Kessler O. Thomas grew up in Thurber, but a few years later he and his family moved to Cisco, Texas. It was during his early childhood in Thurber that Kessler developed the desire to become an aviator. His hometown was a frequent stopping point for barnstorming flyers. Seeing these pilots land and take off in Thurber surely must have impressed the young boy. After graduating from Cisco High School, Kessler attended Allen Military Academy and Texas A&M College in College Station. Afterward, Kessler worked as a mechanical engineer for Day and Zimmerman Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and trained as a civilian pilot.

Kessler put his flying skills to use for the United States military during World War II. He began his career as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps pre-flight school at Maxwell Field, located on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama. Kessler then attended the Army Air Corps pilot school at Corcoran Field in Macon, Georgia. His courses focused on the bombardment phases of pilot training, which completed training as a military pilot.

Kessler Thomas

In addition to receiving his pilot’s Silver Wings and a rank of first lieutenant, Kessler accepted two meaningful gifts from his flight school comrades. Immediately after a pilot received his wings, it was customary of his classmates to give him a one and a two-dollar bill. The one-dollar note had the pilot’s name and date as well as all their autographs. The two-dollar bill was a token of good luck.

After graduation Kessler was assigned to 339th Fighter Group, part of the 505th squadron. Stationed at Fowlmere, England, and equipped with the legendary P-51 Mustang planes, the 339th was one of the premier fighter groups of World War II, achieving 100 air victories in its first 100 missions. The following excerpt from a local Texas newspaper describes one of his missions.

Second Lt. Kessler O. Thomas. . . . participated recently in an Eighth Air Force fighter assault on Nazi oil refineries and storage depots and flew in an attack on vital communication lines inside Germany. Lt. Thomas and his fellow P-51 Mustang pilots of the 339th Fighter Group. . . . were interrupted on their mission by an attacking formation of Messerschmitt 109s. “Though they bounced us,” said Lt. Thomas, “we turned into them and the fight was soon over. Our outfit shot down eight of the Nazis.”

Kessler served admirably during the war, earning the Air Medal. This declaration was awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguished himself by commendable achievement while participating in aerial flight.

On February 6, 1945, tragedy struck. While on a bombing escort mission to Leipzig, Germany, Thomas was flying a plane nicknamed “Arrowhead”. On the return journey, Thomas was killed when he crash landed near Nuthampstead, England, in inclement weather. The Air Corps posthumously awarded him the Purple Heart.

Kessler Thomas' signed dollar bill and Silver Wings.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When the Carnival Comes to Town

By Mary Adams

“The working families that lived in Thurber had few watches or clocks for their daily lives were governed by whistles. At the company power plant, engineers scanned clocks with large dials and numbers and sounded the whistles at designated times.” (Thurber Texas; the Life and Death of a Company Coal Town, John S. Spratt, 1986 p. 26)

Life in Thurber was not easy. Men worked long days in the mineshafts, in the brick plant, or in the company offices while others filled support roles in stores and businesses. However, life in Thurber was not all work. Texas and Pacific Coal Company and its subsidiaries provided a variety of entertainment outlets for their employees. Thurber had its own baseball team, an Opera House, water sports at both Big and Little Lake and events organized by local clubs and lodges throughout the year.

But according to former Thurber resident, Bill Boyd, “The Fourth of July and Labor Days were Holy Days in Thurber,” and the company supported these celebrations by offering special opportunities to relax and socialize which sometimes stretched over two or three days. Both holidays began with a parade. Community organizations decorated their wagons with ribbons and flags and the queen of the day dressed in her finest and lead the procession through the downtown plaza area. Large crowds turned out for the opening ceremony followed by a company-sponsored town picnic.

The Labor Day Queen and her attendants seated on a decorated buggy during the 1908 Labor Day Parade.

During the 1920s Thurber often celebrated the Fourth of July with a water carnival held at Little Lake. According to an article, that ran in the Fort-Worth Star Telegram on June 21, 1922, the American Legion post hosted the big event. The water carnival included swimming and diving contests, tub races, water polo, and even a bathing girl review. A follow-up article in the July 5, 1922 Dallas Morning News claimed two to three thousand attended, some from as far away as Dublin or DeLeon. Participants also enjoyed cattle roping, cowboy shows, foot races, and bicycle races.

Traveling carnivals came to town for both holidays. Texas and Pacific Coal Company advertised in newspapers papers and took bids from carnival companies which provided ferris wheels, balloon men, and other acts. John Spratt remembered trips from his home in Mingus (Thurber Junction) to visit Thurber when carnivals were in town. He recalled prizes given to the victors of games of chance, shooting galleries, gadgets for testing skill and strength, and baseball booths. Food booths, minstrel shows, strange animal exhibits, freak shows, and even snake charmers tempted and thrilled attendees as well.

Letter from C. W. Parker to Dr. Shugart in Thurber, TX regarding carnival arrangements.

Holiday celebrations usually ended with a dance and a fireworks show. The company invested a great deal of time and money in preparation for these two holidays, because they benefitted from them. Among the large, diverse immigrant population in Thurber, the Fourth of July and Labor Day celebrations provided an opportunity for the company to encourage patriotism and Americanization. These recreational days of teamwork and togetherness unified residents in a way that the company hoped would promote loyalty, safety, and satisfaction among employees.

The back-side of a souvenir flag from Labor Day 1910 inscribed with “Lillian, Thurber, Tex., September 7, 1910.”

To learn more about leisure and recreation in Thurber, visit the Gordon Center's summer exhibit, "A Company Town at Play: Sports in Thurber, Texas."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Diary of a Polish Bride

By Ashley Franz-Davis, May 2009 graduate

As English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” So too do a young woman’s. May Day, May 1st of each year, traditionally represents the gathering of flowers and dancing around the maypole in celebration of spring time, blossoms, new beginnings, and love. With these thoughts, I have created the following fictional composite diary in English for a Polish girl living in Thurber:

May 1, 1917 – Thurber, Texas
Dear Diary,
Here at the Franciszka house we know all too well the nostalgic feelings invoked by love! Ojec (Father) has decided it is time for me to marry. Since my parents are both immigrants they strictly adhere to our Polish traditions. In Poland, to indicate an eligible corka (daughter) is ready to marry, her father whitewashes dots on the side of his home, which is exactly what Ojec did last week!
Tonight, my father had a visit in regards to a potential groom-to-be! ♥Jacek Nowak’s♥ Godfather -Jakub is serving as the swat (the go-between for the groom-to-be and my Father) so as to “save face” for the Nowak’s, should any of us object to the proposal.
My father and Jakub began speaking, and then suddenly Jakub pulled out a bottle of whiskey and asked me to bring a whiskey glass! OH I KNEW WHAT THAT MEANT- if I did not return with the glass, the message would clearly indicate my refusal to Jacek Nowak’s clandestine proposal. Oh but I wanted to marry that handsome Polish man so, so bad I could feel it! Każda milość przychodzi w porę (Love comes when its time is coming). So I returned quickly before any objections might be roused.
Jakub poured whiskey into the glass, which both Matka (my Mother) and Father accepted. That signified their willingness to consider Jacek’s proposal.

May 3, 1917 – Thurber, Texas
Dear Diary,
Jacek and Jakub returned, once again bringing a bottle of whiskey with them. Jakub, the swat, asked me to fetch the whiskey glass. Once the whiskey glass was full, Jakub passed it to my Father who in turn passed it to me! This means Ojec and Matka have accepted Jacek’s proposal. I am going to be Mrs. Jacek Nowak!!! I took a sip immediately indicating my acceptance and passed it on to my future groom Jacek– he eagerly gulped it all down making me laugh out loud!

May 4, 1917 – Thurber, Texas
Dear Diary,
Jacek and Jakub are coming to meet my relatives and friends for an engagement ceremony today. Mother has prepared the bread for the zrekowiny (hand binding ceremony). Jacek said he would bring me a beautiful white scarf as is tradition for a zrekowiny. The swat, will use the scarf to unite our right hands above the bread Matka made and will then slice the bread in two for Jacek and me to eat, which will indicate our willingness to be married and share our lives together.

May 5, 1917- Thurber, Texas
Dear Diary,
Today Jacek and I must meet with the priest in order to let him know of our intent to be married. I then have only three short weeks to prepare for the wedding. Therefore, I have concluded that I must write a list of what needs to be done in order to execute the perfect Polish wedding.

An artist's rendering of a Polish wedding dance in Thurber, where male guests threw coins to win dances with the bride by breaking a thick plate. All coins went to the newlyweds. Drawing by Sandra Brown, courtesy of Institute of Texan Cultures,

Slub (Wedding Ceremony) Preparation List:
1. Examine Babcia’s (grandmother’s) full white wedding veil for any stains or tears. Since Matka used it in her wedding to Ojcec, I feel privileged that it has now been bestowed to me for my wedding day.
2. Ensure my big brat (brother) can serve as the accordion player to ride in the back of the buggy to church while playing all of Jacek’s and my favorite songs.
3. Make certain all of my friends, Jacek’s friends, and our families are going to participate in following the buggy to church. (This is one of my favorite parts of a wedding – all our friends and family will be singing, drinking, and laughing in honor of the upcoming marriage to my handsome Jacek).
4. Matka has informed me that she will be in charge of the flowers. She and my ojcec have money saved up so we can order the myrtles (representing love and marriage) and violets (representing faithfulness) from Fort Worth! They will come by train just before the wedding. This should give Matka and Babcia plenty of time to decorate the church with the beautiful flowers we have selected. This is a reason to marry in May here in Thurber. Roses, poppies, and wildflowers are in full bloom during this season, and should be absolutely stunning.
5. Order supplies at the Thurber Mercantile to ensure plenty of food and drinks for the celebration: ingredients for wedding bread, salt, wine, sausage, pickles, cabbage, vodka, and beets for stew. The last thing Matka needs will be the ingredients to fill all the dumplings: meat, cabbage, and sweets. YUMMY!

With so much to do and so much excitement in the air, I find it hard to concentrate on the details. I find myself daydreaming about Jacek’s kiss! I cannot wait until the priest announces us Mr. & Mrs. Jacek Nowak.

Frank Galik and Annie Sobato, children of Polish immigrants,

married in Thurber on May 27, 1917.

Friday, April 3, 2009

B, T, and T

By David Buster

Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Grandiose trinity! Luminous triangle! Whoever has not known you is without sense!
~ Comte de Lautréamont

After reading this quote, I have decided that Lautréamont would have a field day with me. Surely, the nineteenth century Uruguayan-born French poet would mark me as an idiot. After all, some 139 years after his death I found myself befuddled by a simple triangle, but not in the mathematical sense. No, the triangle that stumped me did not involve the Pythagorean Theorem. Heck, it did not even involve the Holy Trinity, did not embrace some sinful tryst with a forbidden lover, or a renowned basketball offense. The triangle that perplexed me was a symbol on the front of a brick containing the letters B, T, and T inside each corner.

Thankfully I was not alone in this confusion. As I have discovered, there are many others who faced this same quandary. Currently, I work as a graduate assistant at the W.K. Gordon Center. Thurber became known for two major industries during its heyday: coal mining and brick manufacturing. Throughout the course of any particular day, museum patrons will ask an assortment questions, the most common being “What does the triangle on the brick mean?” Ah! The triangle. I can hear Lautréamont scoffing at me from his grave.

But, before one can truly understand “the triangle,” he or she needs to know how the bricks bearing it came about. In 1897 Richard D. Hunter, organizer of the Texas Pacific Coal Company, was visited by business associates James Green and L.M. Rumsey of St. Louis, Missouri. During their visit, Green and Rumsey became interested in the shale deposits located in the Thurber vicinity. Green, the owner of the Laclede Fire Clay Works, thought that the earth would be suitable for brick making and sent samples to St. Louis to be analyzed.

The tests demonstrated that the material would be suitable for the manufacturing of drain pipes, roof and floor tile, pressed and vitrified brick. The results of these initial tests prompted Hunter and others to join with Green and Hunter in constructing a brick plant at Thurber. It opened in summer 1897 as one of the most modern facilities west of the Mississippi.

So how does the triangle labeled B, T, and T factor into this? In 1903 organized labor finally managed to squeeze its way into Thurber. A successful strike on September 10, 1903 caused the mines in Thurber to idle. With the mines not producing any fuel, the brick plant would have to suspend production.

In order to end this strike, company Vice President Edgar L. Marston, met the requests of the striking miners and recognized their newly formed local of the United Mine Workers of America. At the same time, the operators agreed to recognize other craft unions representing their areas of work. Thurber in time became reputedly the only entirely unionized city in the United States. After the strike, the employees of the brick plant formed the Brickmakers’ Union of Thurber, Local 153. This union, a part of the now defunct American Federation of Labor, stamped a triangle onto all bricks produced at Thurber as a union made label.

Now that the origin of the triangle is known, where do the initials B, T, and T come into play? In 1908 the union chose a new name, the Brick, Tile and Terra Cotta Workers Alliance. This would become the source of the initials of B, T, and T that are found on Thurber bricks.

Also it appears that the triangular stamp was used elsewhere. Through research inquiries, photographs have turned up showing bricks in California and several union pins employing the same symbol. So, now my journey has come full circle. At the end of the day, I have finally unraveled the meaning of the BTT triangle. Who knows, Comte de Lautréamont may be proud of me after all.


The Industrious Historian is a collaborative effort on behalf of the graduate students and staff members of the W. K. Gordon Center of Industrial History of Texas. The many untold tales of the company town of Thurber and industrial history around the state of Texas inspired the effort, which intends to reveal little known details to entertain and educate its readers.

Tarleton State University graduate students research and contribute the articles. Each participant in the blog gains first-hand experience interpreting photographs and unusual artifacts to solve historical mysteries. David Buster, a Gordon Center graduate assistant since 2008, writes the first entry which discusses the triangle stamp often found on Thurber bricks. Special guest bloggers will appear from time to time.

The blog offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Gordon Center’s collections, with images from photographs and of artifacts rarely seen by the general public.

The center is located at exit 367 on Interstate 20, midway between Fort Worth and Abilene. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 to 4 and on Sunday from 1 to 4. For more information please call 254-968-1886.