Machines Whirl to New Era

There were revolutions across the border in the high-school days of 1910 through 1913. During those years, under Taft and Wilson, and up to the outbreak of the World War, we had concentrations of the American troops in San Antonio and on the Mexican border. It was during this period that America, knowingly or unknowingly, girded for the World War. San Antonio was once again a great military city, and at its posts were thousands of tents filled with National Guardsmen from nearly every state in America. The saloons, the street cars, the gambling houses, the jitneys, the houses of prostitution, the drugstores, the business houses, the importers and exporters were doing a big business.

The sisters of the high-school boys married engineers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and most of us went to college or else got good jobs if we were not too lazy to work.

Some of our leading businessmen and politicians, very conservative and respectable, had been dynamiters back in the street car strike in 1905. I can remember one dynamiter especially who denounced the McNamaras for using the same methods he had used. He had become a respectable merchant. He disapproved of the Mexican revolution. He made money out of both sides of each new conflict.

The street car strike had set the pace for anti-union ideas. During that time the utility owners began to learn how to use propaganda; they learned how to split the workers, and make them fight against themselves.

In that strike leading businessmen and young men of the town acted as strike-breakers—to do their bit in preventing a living wage. These same anti-union ideas prevailed for many years afterward, and a man with a union card who was impudent enough to want his family to have a decent living standard was not considered a very good citizen. The Chamber of Commerce, direct representatives of the railroads, and taking on the electric and other utilities as fast as they could, lured factories to the city by advertising the "cheapest and most docile labor in the world." This type of advertising is still widespread over the South, and I shall have more to say about this in later chapters.

But San Antonio was just a normal American town, still expanding. Its Chamber of Commerce was no worse than others, but typical. True, because of God-given scenery, its Mexican population, and its proximity to the border, San Antonio was a colorful place.

We Mavericks lived like average people. On the farm we milked the cows; our father had a job, and everybody who wanted a job could get one. We moved to the farm because brother Reuben had contracted tuberculosis from working in the basement of a bank. It was not considered disreputable to work young men in basements in those days, and if people died of disease now and then from bad conditions in factories or banks, the employers could get somebody else. People still die of disease from bad conditions in factories, and probably even in some business houses, but it is no longer considered respectable.

It was around 1910 I lost my first name, Fontaine.

My mother and father were proud of it, because, as I have already told you, it came from Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, our cousin, and besides, the Fontaines had come from France, and were Huguenots. But this did not impress me very much, and the boys would call me Benedict Belle Fontaine, The Farmer of Grand Pre, and the "F" looked funny in front of Maury.

One hot day I was out working bees for my cousin Lewis. The old man driving the wagon had loaded it with the fruits of our robberies. It was a heavy load.

It was sweltering. The horses could not make the grade.

The old man turned around and said: "What is your full name, boy?"

I answered: "Fontaine Maury Maverick."

He looked at me angrily: "You'll have to drop part of that name or these horses will never make it up this hill. Make up your mind, son, which you are willing to drop."

"I'll drop the Fontaine," I said.

He cracked the whip, and the horses went up the hill as though the load was nothing. And to this very day, I choose to believe that we would never have reached the top of the hill with the load of honey had I not dropped that Fontaine.

In those days life in San Antonio was free and easy. The band played on the square in front of the Alamo, and San Antonians came out on the public square and walked around in circles, just as they do in Mexico. In front of the Alamo there were chili stands, and there was a popular idea of the "Chili Queen." She was supposed to be a very beautiful young Senorita, somewhere between sixteen and twenty-one, a charming girl, who had a voice like a nightingale and dressed in fine Spanish costumes, with mantillas and castanets, always on the verge of rendering a graceful dance.

The truth of the matter is that the chili stands were insanitary places and were ordinarily run by poor old women, who had little charcoal stoves in back of their stands. Why we didn't all die of ptomaine poisoning, no one knows. Every Saturday night, before we moved to the country, Papa would give us what he called "tamale money"—a big nickel each, and with this nickel we would go to the tamale stands where we would all get six tamales and chili-con-carne. And the time came when our father doubled our tamale money and gave us ten cents each, and so with the dime we could get what we had been getting before, and also a great big cup of chocolate, or some pecan candy. With the chocolate was served some "pan dulce"—that is to say, sweet bread or Mexican cake. Then we would go over and hear the band play, or walk around the town and have a big time.

We moved to the country and built the big house on Sunshine Ranch. All the boys got jobs in the summer. Brother Jim, who went to the University of Wisconsin, traveled the summertime in North Dakota. Georged worked for the Water Company reading meters, and even made enough money to buy a motorcycle and to go off to Massachusetts Institute of Technology—but not on the motorcycle. I worked on a county road as a road superintendent.

Bryan Callaghan was Mayor of San Antonio, and was a machine politician. There were periodic but fruitless efforts to reform the city. Streets were not paved. There were few sewers. About forty percent of the population were immigrants from Mexico, and they had the lowest standard of living in the United States. That was considered to be proper by the citizens of the community, if they considered it at all; besides, the Mexicans were then satisfied. The ranching and business interests, eager to get cheap labor, encouraged Mexican emigration to Texas.

Mayor Callaghan was a delightful fellow, and always got re-elected. He was descended from a good Spanish family, and was Irish on one side of the house. He was a graduate of the University of Virginia, which he attended with my father, and was a cultured gentleman. But he was a real oldtime boss.

He only got beat once in all his career, and he died in office. There was one thing he hated, and that was the descendants of the Mayflower. No one knew why, and there were no descendants of the Mayflower in town, as far as anyone knew. One night, shortly before an election—and it is said that he had been celebrating a little bit too much—he made a speech, when his election was apparently in the bag. He denounced the Mayflower, all it brought over, and all the descendants. He said that they were a bunch of Puritans, and that he was sorry the boat had not sunk with all hands, for that would have saved us from Prohibitionists, Puritans, reformers, and busybodies.

The next day you would have thought there was going to be a real lynching; at least, everyone was outraged. Veins began to pulse with Mayflower blood. San Antonio got Mayflower-conscious, and if the Grand Secretary General of the Society of Mayflower-Descendants had come to town, he could have gotten thousands of members, though I doubt if even one was eligible.

Mr. Callaghan got the beating of his life. He never denounced the descendants of the Mayflower again. By the next election, the citizenry had forgotten that their ancestors had come over on the Mayflower, and so he was again overwhelmingly elected, because in the meantime some fellow who either called himself a progressive or a reformer, or something, had edged in. We went back to the good old days, and the good old ways.
San Antonio and every other city in America grew on, irrespective of machine politics. City government had little responsibility; and economic empires, much more powerful, were growing. Lincoln Steffens and a few others kicked up a little fuss, but time rolled on, heedless of the accumulating waste, and no one knew of the breakdown that was ahead.
Young John Tobin was Sheriff. He was descended from one of the old families who emigrated to San Antonio a couple of hundred years before from the Canary Islands. John Tobin was also the grandson of John W. Smith, who welcomed my grandfather to San Antonio when he came there just before the Battle of San Antonio in 1835. Sheriff Tobin had all the good manners of a pleasant Irishman.

The town was what they called wild. I can remember when I would walk along the side of the street and look into the old Silver King Saloon where gambling was done quite openly. There didn't seem to be any objection to it from anybody, and it was taken as a matter of course. In the saloons, men played cards and checkers, and they had round tables with little shelves underneath to hold the checkers and cards, or whatever you cared to put there. No one dreamed that there would ever be Prohibition or War or Depression. If a young citizen happened to drink too much and get fired for his bad habits, he sobered up and got another job. If he went broke, he shifted to another business. If he was ambitious, he quit his job and went into business for himself.

In those high-school days the grocery stores had big barrels of sauerkraut, beans, and sugar. The day of packaged goods, and national advertising, and sex appeal on the billboards had not yet arrived. You rolled your own cigarettes, although once or twice a year you bought a package of Turkish cigarettes with cork tips.

The Luccheses and Mr. Hackelberger had shoe-shops, where they made shoes and boots. The cowboys came in from all over West Texas and bought from the Luccheses, and there were no better boots in the whole United States. If there was anything the matter with your shoe, you either went to the Luccheses or Mr. Hackelberger, and they did a good job; of course, there were shoe stores, but it was long before the modern shoe factories were developed on the grand mass scale.
Machines and centralized finance had not yet gotten control—it was thrift, accumulation of capital goods, growth and inflation. People could not make enough or produce enough.
Shoe salesmen and clothing salesmen used San Antonio as their headquarters, and the jokes of the drummers were rich and racy and they generally told stories of the "traveling man and the girl." There were big signs all over town of the Edgewood Whiskey fat man, and these words were inscribed: "I drink Edgewood Whiskey." In all the barber shops the Police Gazette was there to read. The pictures showed ladies in tights who looked as though they weighed 175 pounds, but they were risque and beautiful.

Scholz Brothers' Bar and Beer Garden, Harnisch of Baer Restaurant, were running in full glory. You ate a big meal, for which you never paid over seventy-five cents, and at the most a dollar if you got wine and extras; you tipped the waiter anywhere from ten to fifteen cents, but never over a quarter. At the natatorium there was regular swimming, and the ladies wore swimming suits made of heavy cloth which made them look like girls from the orphans' home, dressed in their sombre uniforms, including stockings and shoes.

There was no doubt petty graft here and there; there was a nice brisk rate of murder, ordinary crimes and robberies, and the jails had plenty of boarders. It was good old natural crime: fighting, drinking, stealing—the kind of crime that is usually called sin. When a man robbed anybody in those days, he never got over a hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars—and five years, if he got caught. But there was no such thing as modern racketeering.

We saw real money spent during the Cattlemen's Conventions. The cattlemen would come to town and get drunk, and then they would throw nickels, dimes and quarters out in the streets, and the newsboys would fight over the money. Every now and then a cattleman would give somebody a tip of a dollar or five dollars when he was drunk enough. This would furnish talk for weeks. Rich Mexicans would come into town and buy at Joske Brothers' Store—a store locally owned, and using its wealth for the building of the town.

Out on our farm, and every other farm in Texas, we plowed downhill and uphill in straight lines, and let the rain wash away the fertility of the soil. Advances were being made by certain experiment stations, but on the whole agriculture was primitive. The pigs died of cholera, the cows had abortions, and the milk stock was infected with tuberculosis. There were droughts, which hurt agriculture, but whenever you had a drought, everybody simply went without. There were dozens of little dairies around the town. Some of them were even in the city limits. Great dairy and creamery corporations had not yet come into existence. All stores were making money and putting it back in the business.
From the viewpoint of natural resources, America was digging her own grave. From a business viewpoint, she was riding to a fall. From a civic viewpoint she was growing haphazardly, becoming unsanitary, ugly, unhealthful—and as the economic empires built up huge surpluses, so the cities and the state governments were building up huge deficits in human and natural waste.
It was about 1912, as I remember, that the people began to get big ideas. There was business and speculation in the country. We still had the street car company, and the old gas company, but they were separate corporations. Finally, the utility corporations—gas, electricity, and transportation—organized into one company. The two phone companies merged. Later on in Texas natural gas was discovered. But in the beginning, even with these mergers, our utility company was really a small affair. The small towns had very small electric plants, or none at all. In San Antonio everybody knew Mr. Tuttle, the head of the utilities, as well as the other officials. These officials lived in San Antonio, and the capital was largely borrowed and spent in San Antonio and Southwest Texas. The utility officials who came to town bought homes and land in Texas, and lived and spent their money here. The gigantic holding companies of today were beyond human conception.

People began to dig oil wells in Texas, but not so many as later. That was a year or two before the war. The cattlemen over Southwest Texas would come into the big towns, like San Antonio, where they would finance their operations. Then they would take their cattle to the market and make a profit, and come back and pay the banker and spend their profit at home for possibly more land and more equipment, more ranch houses, more improvements and more labor. The bankers in those days were more or less human and took an interest in civic affairs, and they, too, were making money.
But the foundation was being laid for the big mergers and the giant superstructure of holding companies, the great captive balloons filled with the paper gas of the promoters, the strings being tightly held by the financiers, not the owners. They were getting their balloons ready for ascension and the big ride, unaware of the big bust that was to come.
In 1912 I went off to the Virginia Military Institute. My father had an idea that it would be well for me to have good military training, because we might get into a war.