Sunday, August 19, 2007

Roadtripping ...

I haven't regularly roadtripped for the sake of just hitting the road since I was in college; but, given all the other stuff I have on my plate -- a lot of paddling, lately -- I spend a lot of hours behind the wheel.

By and large, I enjoy it. A lot. I'm always happy when there's enough give in the schedule to stop and smell the flowers, literally, and read historical markers and pop into ramshackle, old general stores.

I take the scenic route whenever I can.

Imagine my joy when Tamara sent me a link to a Web site dedicated to roadtrips. is chock-full of advice on how to live and work from the road ("dashboarding," it's called), narrative reports on interesting day-, weekend- and longer trips, and a gallery of truly humorous roadside signs.

That's just some of what you can find there.

This week, you can also find a story about a trip Tam and I took to the Texas Coastal Bend. Next Sunday her article about Walla Walla, Washington's wineries will appear.

The RTA folks are some of the nicest I've dealt with in the world of publishing and it's a privilege to be featured on their pages. Check it out.

Friday, August 17, 2007

New blog: backyard wildlife posts moved

Lots of wildernesss, not much water. That's been the state of this blog lately. So I'm doing some housecleaning and moving the backyard wildlife posts to a new blog: The Abilene Trail Chronicles.

I'll add photos and new posts this evening. Lots of cool stuff going on in our Oak Hill backyard these days.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Big water, big fun

Paddling, lately, has been work. I'm either on the coast, paddling north to complete the coastwise journey (the Cabela's Kayak Safari) or paddling a river or stream somewhere for the Falcon book.

This week I went paddling for fun. Oh, okay ... it was for fun and profit; there will be a magazine article too.

Ken and Dean drove down from LaPorte and Aransas Pass respectively. TSJ Senior Editor Steve Lightfoot and I carpooled from Austin.

We all met at Getaway Adventures Lodge, my Port Mansfield home-away-from-home, where we joined Temple Fork Outfitter's Jim Shulin and Capt. Brandon Shuler for an offshore adventure.

So what can you look forward to in Texas Sporting Journal? Hmm ... well, we caught some fish. We got beat up and beat down by rougher-than-predicted conditions. We participated in the open-water barter economy. We all marvelled at the surreal, serenely cerulean sea.

There was some tomfoolery, too. It's tough to schedule a fishing trip with Dean and Ken and not get some of that. Fortunately, Jim and Brandon fit right in -- held their own quite well, in fact. So did Steve, which was no big surprise.

Kinda scary, considering these guys are all real, live professionals.

The trip confirmed something I've known for a long while; just getting out there is the best thing about these adventures.

It doesn't matter whether the trip lasts a day or two or a week. And whether and what we catch comes in a distant third to the opportunity to immerse oneself in wild and beautiful nature and the camaraderie of good friends.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Mi familia

"Adios, amigo."

Those were the last words my grandfather said to me. Must have been Christmas, 1990, and I was in my first junior year at the University of Dallas. By Easter, he was gone.

"Adios, amigo," was what he always said as I left the home of my mother's parents. It's the kind of Spanish every kid in South Texas knows; it's Saturday-morning-cartoon Spanish.

Except, it wasn't.

My grandfather was born in Oklahoma, but throughout his early life shuttled back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. After he and my grandmother married, they moved to Mexico City for a good long spell, weathering the Great Depression in the bosom of a family that could (and did) provide jobs.

My grandfather and his brothers signed-up with the federal police, became motocyclistas. The story goes that the recruiter asked if they could ride motorcycles. My grandfather, afraid that he would lose the job if he told the truth, lied: "Yes."

Uncle Lorenzo said "no," and promptly got sent to training. Grandad ran over a kid his first day, breaking the poor child's leg.

Mom's two oldest siblings, my Uncle Ray (only, we all call him "Junior") and my Aunt Kathy, both were born in Mexico. My first cousins -- the ones born to the boys -- are Torreses; the rest of us go by other names.

In Rockport in the 1970s, tradition was for schoolchildren to introduce themselves to the classroom on the first day of school. Tradition was, too, to use one's entire name. Mine: Aaron Ramón Reed.

The "Ramón," with the rolled "r," got me sent to the office at least two years in a row. A check of the school's records would reveal that yes, indeed, the green-eyed, tow-headed boy's middle name was in fact not "Bubba," but "Ramón."

My grandfather's name. What else, I wonder, did I inherit from him?

Family history, in fits and starts

Over the last decade, I've rather desultorily attempted to dig up some of the history of my Mexican family. Cousin Cindy (a Torres, before she married and became an Owens) and others in the family have done some crackerjack geneological work.

We have Grandmother's family back to New Amsterdam in the 1640s (one ancestor was a publican who was thrown out of the country for drunk-and-disorderly, but that's another story) and, in some lines, back even further -- to the Low Countries in the 15th century.

There's a whole bag full of Revolutionary War veterans. The Sacketts, of Louis L'amour fame, were relatives, as was Silver Screen film star Betty Grable.

On my dad's side, the Scots-Irish Reids (the spelling of the family name changed sometime between 1800 and 1820) settled in Rockbridge Co., Virginia, back around 1780. They came from County Down, Ireland.

There was a Patrick, and an Aaron, and a Patrick, and an Aaron ... seven generations or so of alternating names, until my dad came along. His mom's people, the Finters, also landed near Rockbridge Co., though the Reeds and Finters wouldn't get together until some straggled into Illinois and Missouri more than a century later. One Finter rode with a Virginia cavalry regiment during the Late Unpleasantness. Another came to Texas long enough to win title to some land for his service in the Revolution; deciding he didn't much like the newly minted republic, he went back east.

But what about Grandad's family? We knew his parents' names, of course, and even their parents. But after that, the trail grew cold. Family legends hinted at murder and betrayal, wealth and lands lost, high government posts. We knew where to look: the Mexican state of Sonora.

Some years ago -- maybe half a decade -- Google produced for me the portraits of Luís E. Torres and Lorenzo Torres, both one-time governors of that state. If I closed one eye, I could see a bit of family resemblance.

A repeat search several weeks ago turned-up some other, fascinating history that corroborates some of the old family legends. More importantly, it started a multi-generational conversation between my cousins and our parents, and even more stories are coming to light.


The Bedonkohe Apache leader figures only tangentially into our story, but he's the reason parts of it were recorded.

In December of 1885, a force of four U.S. Army officers, 40 American packers and 100 "tame" Apaches entered Mexico in pursuit of Geronimo.

Along the way, the Indians under American command engaged in drunk and disorderly conduct, killed several citizens and killed and stole numerous cattle (including two belonging to the prefect of the district of Moctezuma, my great-great grandfather, José María Torres, and one belonging to his brother Gen. -- later Gov. -- Lorenzo Torres).

This became an international incident -- and thus was recorded -- when the commander of the expedition was killed in early Jan. in an exchange with Mexican volunteer troops from the neighboring state of Chihuahua who also were pursuing Geronimo's band.

Some accounts say that the exchange was an unfortunate accident, and that Capt. Emmet Crawford was shot while trying to tell the Mexican troops they had erred. One Mexican officer and five troopers also were killed or wounded in the exchange. Other accounts offer a different perspective.

At the request of the U.S., the Mexican government initiated at least one (and possibly two) investigation(s) into the incident.

In: Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress with the Annual Message of the President, Dec. 6, 1886 (Government Printing Office), the accounts of what occurred Dec. 1885-Jan. 1886 are remarkably consistent.

The investigation took place in the spring of 1886 and consisted of combing through the records of contemporaneous reports in the various municipalities through which Crawford's force passed and taking new depositions from witnesses. One of those witnesses was my great-great grandfather.

In his deposition in March 1886, José María states for the record that he is 38 years old, a widower, a native of the state of Sinaloa and now a resident of "this place" (Moctezuma, Sonora), living on Plaza Street. On the same date, Lorenzo Torres was not present in the district and could not be deposed.

At the time he gave his deposition, José Maria had only a few months to live. On June 12, 1886, he was murdered by rebels led by Guadalupe Velarde.

The family legend is that he was ambushed on the road from his ranch to town. Whether he was targeted randomly, or as an act of political violence, or because he was the brother of Gen. Lorenzo Torres or Gov. Luis Torres (some accounts say Luis and Lorenzo were brothers, others say they were not related), or for some other reason … I don’t know.

One version takes a sinister view of this event: José Maria's brother (either Luis or Lorenzo) had him killed in order to take his land.

This seems unlikely, as both Luís and Lorenzo were key members of the Porfiriato (Pres. Porfirio Diaz' ruling clique), more prominent than my great-grandfather, and probably already quite wealthy. And, too, we can surmise from the Crawford incident that Lorenzo and my great-great grandfather already shared a ranching enterprise.

My great grandfather, also José María, was only about 5 when his father was killed. According to the family stories, he was taken in and raised by an uncle, who sent him to the Colegio Militar at Chapultapec.

At some point, probably shortly after he graduated from the academy, he rode across the border and into the United States, where he joined a Wild West Show, possibly the famed 101. In the show he demonstrated his skill with six-shooters, alongside a half-Cherokee fellow named Will Rogers. Family legend says they both dropped out of the show near Caney, Kansas, on the Oklahoma border.

It was there he met the daughter of an inkeeper, Inez Merceda Walker, and they married.

What inheritance?

The pieces are coming together, slowly. We still have cousins in Mexico; my mom's generation fell out of touch with them sometime in the 1960s. As late as the 1970s, my great grandfather's portrait still hung on the walls at the Castle of Chapultapec. We know where to look for more information. We can figure this out, and the sleuthing is fun.

But what does it matter? There is no land, no money, no title. My genetic inheritence from my grandfather Ramón is only equal to that I received from my Dutch-Irish-Scottish-Huegonot grandmother, his wife; it's only as much as I received from my Scots-Irish paternal grandfather, and my German-Irish-Mohawk paternal grandmother.

I'm a mutt.

It's tempting to draw lines and say: "Oh, I got this from that person!" And in fact, people say I favor my Uncle Junior, who in turn looked a lot like his dad, my grandfather. But I also really enjoy beer and live music; is that the legacy of my great grandfather on my dad's side? Patrick Henry Reed was a lanky Southern hillbilly, the town drunk and a heck of a fiddler.

I've glommed on to the Mexican side of the family for a couple of reasons; one is proximity: Sonora is just two states over from Texas. The other is recency: ancestors in my other lines immigrated in the 17th and 18th centuries, and I suspect that while we know more about them in broad strokes now, the fine details are lost forever.

The history of my Mexican family also is interesting, in that it reflects to some degree a turbulent period in the history of Mexico and also the American Southwest.

My Aunt Ruth told me once that Lorenzo Torres -- her great uncle -- had moved to San Diego for “health reasons” sometime around 1911. I figure she’s right; he was trying to avoid “lead poisoning,” the sort that is acute and instantly fatal.

His friend and associate for many years, Ramón Corral (who is possibly my own grandfather’s namesake, though it's more likely he was named for his uncle, Ramón Aragon), has variously been described as a sensitive, intellectual man and also as one of the most openly corrupt, ruthless and inept politicians of his time. What is not disputed is that his election as Diaz’ vice president was one of the major factors precipitating the Mexican Revolution. Corral joined Diaz in exile in Paris, where he died.

Another reason my Mexican roots fascinate me is because, from the first time I had to fill out a government form that required (or asked for) Census data, I was confronted with these choices: American Indian, Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, White (Not Hispanic).

"White (Not Hispanic)?" White, yes. Not Hispanic? No.

The meaning of family

All of this -- and, significantly, deciding to share a life with someone again, moving into a new home, integrating an 8-year-old into that -- has led me to reflect lately on the meaning of family.

I think of my childhood friends Ann and Bill, brother and sister. They looked like brother and sister. Even more strikingly, Bill looked, walked and talked just like his dad. Turns out Ann and Bill were both adopted, from separate families. They weren't genetically related to each other or their parents at all. But there was no doubt that they were all family.

I think of other people I know, people whose "families of origin" are lost to them; many of them have adopted a circle of close friends and extended family members as their "family."

When I worked for Child Protective Services, I saw just about every permutation of family -- good families, bad families, abusive families, created families, foster families, adoptive families, estranged families ... and I concluded that family, like so many things in life, is what you make of it.

Families are people who share ties of duty and affection, people who share a common mythology. And by "mythology," I mean legends, some true and some not.

Family is the people you choose (or choose to remain connected to); family is the stories you share; family is history. And I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to history. I really dig it.

I have long joked that, given our family’s tradition of military service, I surely had an ancestor at the Alamo. This most recent spate of Internet research may have uncovered him: on the decisive day at Bexar, a Mexican officer in the Zapadores (Engineer Battalion) died while capturing the only Texian flag (the banner of the New Orleans Greys) to make it back to Mexico with Santa Anna's troops, who were later defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto.

His name: José María Torres.

[Photos: Cousins in Mexico, taken by an itinerent photographer; Gen. (and Gov.) Luis E. Torres of Sonora, who may or may not be related; Geronimo, about the time of the Crawford expedition; my great grandfather José María Torres and his second wife, Inez Merceda Walker (von Wakker); José María Torres and Emma, my mother's first cousins in Mexico; Ramon Corral, Sonoran politician and last vice president of pre-Revolutionary Mexico; the banner of the New Orleans Greys.]