Not long ago The Wall Street Journal ran this line: “Boehner drew a line in the sand over the debt ceiling.” There was no further explanation in the WSJ about lines and sand, the editors obviously assuming the readers would understand the meaning.
President George H. W. Bush used the term at the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990: “A line has been drawn in the sand.” Then there are the song lyrics, “Long ago, I drew a line into the sand/Jumped across and held your hand.” The Texas Tea Party asks: “Where will you DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND FOR FREEDOM?” Tea partiers must like caps. “Why would the Republicans want to draw a line in the sand?” asked GOP guru Steve Schmidt on TV during the party’s recent convention.
I got to thinking that some sayings, curses and shouts originating in Texas have spread far and wide, while others never made it past the border guards. Take the sand line. If you are new to the Lone Star State, Pilgrim – demographers say the Texas population is increasing by 1,330 a day! – then a brief explanation about the above quote, which is similar to Crossing the Rubicon. Some say the statement originated in 168 BC when a Roman Consul named Gaius Popillius Laenas drew a circular line in the sand around King Antiochus IV and said, “Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate.” Maybe, but probably not, since neither Laenas nor Antiochus could speak English.
No, as every Texan knows, the expression came from an action, but not a quote, by the Alamo’s commander, Col William B. Travis. With the mission surrounded and no hope of help from the outside, according to the legend, Travis called the Alamo defenders together, explained that defeat was almost certain. He reportedly pulled out his battle sword, used it to draw a line in the ground of the Alamo, and asked for volunteers to cross over the line and join him, understanding that death awaited those who crossed. All but one of the defenders joined Travis on his side of the line. Moses Rose was the only defender choosing to leave, and, no, he wasn’t the Yellow Rose of Texas.
Today, some deny the story, along with global warming and Hawaiian birth certificates. But as J. Frank Dobie wrote: “It is a line that not all the piety nor wit of research will ever blot out. It is a grand canyon cut into the bedrock of human emotions and historical impulses.” Journalists have a saying, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” In other words, if it didn’t happen, it should have.
Last March the Alaska Dispatch wrote: “Those who draw the Black Bean will mostly be ‘patriot-types’” anyway…” A political cartoon in 1904 showed potential vice presidential nominees wanting to run on the ticket with President Theodore Roosevelt lining up, blind folded, hoping to draw the black bean to gain the nod. Actually, the potential candidates should have wanted the white, not black, bean because the color of the legumes was the difference in life or death.
Unlike the line drawing episode, we know for sure this actually happened. In 1843 some Texans decided to invade Mexico (this was after 12,000 Mexican solders re-took San Antonio).The group, called the Mier Expedition, was a disaster. Of those captured, 176 escaped but were later recaptured. President Santa Anna, as usual, ordered them all to be executed, but instead a clay pot was filled with 176 beans – 160 white and 17 black beans. The white beans meant marching to prison. The black beans meant death. One out of every 10 was shot — literally decimation. Frederic Remington even painted a picture of the scene, or made a drawing of the drawing. Today most Americans know the meaning of drawing the black bean.
Every time there is a mention of the duties of the vice presidency, John Nance Garner of Uvalde is quoted. Garner had been a powerful Speaker of the House before becoming Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bored and powerless veep. Garner famously described the vice-presidency as being “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Cactus Jack’s opinion lives on. Among other sayings around here, “All hat and no cattle” hasn’t crossed the Red River very often. “Dance with who brung us” has done better, and everyone remembers the Alamo.After JFK was assassinated in Dallas a Des Moines newspaper ran a cartoon, “Deep in the hate of Texas.” It never caught on. Davy Crockett had a good motto: “I leave this rule for others when I’m dead: Be always sure you’re right — then go ahead.” He also said, “Aw, come on, Travis. Who’d attack a church?”
“Houston, the Eagle has landed” has made the cut. But when the Bayou City gets in trouble, newspaper headline writers can’t resist, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Or “you’ve got a problem,” depending on location. If you told a New Yorker, “He was rode hard and put up wet,” you might get a strange look, but you probably made your point. “One riot, one Ranger,” is debateable. We say we are “fixin’” to do something, which has nothing to do with repairing. GTT is understood around here, but has to be explained elsewhere. Does “Who shot J.R.?” qualify?
Lastly, a couple of interesting items in regard to Texana. David Robert Haywood Jones was a British singer who wanted to avoid confusion with the then well-known Davy Jones, the lead singer of The Monkees. So David Robert Haywood Jones changed his name to David Bowie, not for the man but for the weapon, which he called “the ultimate American knife. It is the medium for a conglomerate of statements and illusions.” Huh? And the one person believed to have the largest private collection of Alamo artifacts is another British pop singer, Phil Collins. He keeps the stuff in Switzerland.
Ashby quotes at firstname.lastname@example.org