Tour: Texas Two Step
Dates: February 7–17, 2020
Tour Leader: Neil Mangum
See below for an update and photos of the successful Fort Clinch symposium in January 2020.
As my field opportunities will be more limited, I get the luxury of deciding which programs I will support, and a trip to Houston and San Antonio was a great choice! Neil Mangum is one of the most engaging and naturally gregarious people I have ever had the privilege of traveling with, and this trip was no different. Neil was born in Virginia, but his soul is in the Southwest, and his diverse and interesting programs all feature the America as you ought to learn to love.
February is a great time to visit Texas, and any of the Deep South states—springlike temperatures and low humidity. The cohort was small because the price was robust, but they were all veteran travelers who knew each other, Neil, and myself. It made for a great nine days.
We had offered Texas before and had found we barely scratched the surface, so we determined to pick up all the spots you ought to go to and some that you just wouldn’t think of seeing.
TEXAS STEP ONE
February 8, 2020
Our first day took us east of Houston to Galveston Island, which historically offers two things of universal appeal: the 1863 Battle of Galveston and the Hurricane of 1900, in which more than 6,000 people are believed to have perished.
Our Civil War episode focused on my old friend Prince John Magruder—at his gravesite, I gave a 20-minute mini talk on his career and my belief in the myth of Robert E. Lee sending all his loser generals to the West. We talked politics and some historical documentation I had uncovered. After visiting a What-a-Burger restaurant, we saw some mighty fine homes and went to the waterfront to discuss hurricanes and to point out aspects of living with those natural phenomena that folks who have never lived with it learn.
We looked at Sea Wall construction and discussed storm surge. Obligingly enough, a squall line out in the Gulf gave a snapshot of the early warning—indeed, the only warning the residents had. After going to the waterfront and seeing a pair of absolutely fascinating movies—one on the hurricane and one on the pirate Jean LaFitte—we visited the Lone Star flight museum at Ellington Field, where a number of vintage warplanes primarily from WWII are on display. Seemed a good thing to do to have dinner, and we found Ray’s BBQ in a rundown portion of Houston that had superb BBQ brisket and ribs.
February 9, 2020
Sunday was an IOU from the previous trip. The Johnson Space Center here was and is the heart of the American space program. We were captured from the first moment, when we toured a mock-up of the Space Shuttle was mounted atop a modified Boeing 747. They have restored Mission Control to the appearance of the day Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon, and an audio visual program allowed us to witness that most dramatic moment in space history. We individually toured the facility for about four hours, seeing spectacular samples from the lunar missions and an understated but important film of American space exploration throughout the solar system. It certainly rejuvenated my patriotism and understanding of the importance of being in space—some earnest debates about why we never colonized the Moon and consensus that restoring America’s ability to put astronauts into space was essential. We closed our day with a visit to the restored Dallas Love Field 1940 Air Terminal. This surprisingly neat museum was a repository for the great history of commercial flight from Texas—Eastern Airlines, Continental, Southwest, and Texas International to name a few. Had forgotten Southwest put their flight attendants in hot pants!
Feb. 10–11, 2020
Our last two days in the first step took us to San Jacinto, where Neil took us beyond the Texan and Mexican Camp sites and covered the battle itself. Although the World War I and II Dreadnought U.S.S. Texas is undergoing restoration, she sits impressively at her berth. Another great BBQ restaurant, King’s BBQ, left us pretty mellow as we moved on to the Museum of Southern History on the campus of Houston Baptist University. I particularly was struck by the adjacent History of the Bible Museum, which was very impressively presented. Both museums were immaculately presented with generous benefactors who provided impressive artifacts—worth your time! Another important and final stop was the National Museum of the Buffalo Soldiers—great idea but still fairly raw and in need of funding. Learned much, but could have learned a great deal more.
Our last day from Houston took us to Washington on the Brazos, where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed, and San Felipe de Austin, where Texas founder Stephen Austin set up his colony. As we wrapped at Houston, we acknowledged the coming Carnival season known as Mardi Gras, as I introduced a King Cake to them, and Neil and Mary Adams chipped in some Blue Bell ice Cream that also was in the flavors of King Cake—no one failed to partake, and the spirit of the party was obvious.
TEXAS STEP TWO
Feb. 12, 2020
The program moved from Houston to San Antonio for the second step, and en route we went to Goliad and the Coleto battlefield. Here, after the Alamo, Col. James Fannin surrendered his forces to Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos. The imprisoned soldiers were kept at La Bajia Mission, and from there were marched out and murdered. Even Colonel Fannin was dehumanized and executed in a chair in front of the church—having been shot in the face. Truth be told, the real target was MacMillan’s BBQ. This iconic hole-in-the-wall in Fannin was closing early so an employee could get to an appointment. At the last moment we arrived, and they delayed their trip to serve a meal that folks rated as the second best of the entire trip. I had the beef ribs and they were to die for!
Feb. 13, 2020
Moving into San Antonio, we were bedded down in the literal shadow of the Alamo, next door at the iconic 19th-century Menger Hotel. Elegant, classic and grand all are fair descriptors. They were five nights well spent. Early the next day we walked the battles preceding the siege and massacre at the Alamo, going to Mission Concepción and José. The battle of Bexar had the cohort walking from the old Military Plaza and released for lunch. Neil, Stan Spector, and I opted for the Riverwalk and to a shorter line at Hooters—what great oysters on the half shell and smoked Buffalo wings; dollar draft beer made for a great midday respite. The day finished with Neil taking the group on a walk around the Alamo grounds.
Feb. 14, 2020
Our Friday headed to Fort Sam Houston. Here we rode the historic parade ground looking over the houses of great luminaries occupied now by one-, two-, three-, and four-star generals. A trip into the old Quadrangle introduced us to a museum we didn’t know existed, and which provided much interesting information and a screening of a seriously outdated movie that could be a perfect training tool for sexual harassment. The female director was a good person and made lemonade out of lemons—it was actually pretty amusing. We then found the new medical museum, which was superbly presented and a great tribute to the medical evacuation people in the Army. Returning to the downtown, we met at the Buckhorn Saloon for lunch and to visit the two museums there. The Texas Ranger Museum and the Buckhorn were much more interesting than they appeared on the surface, and a good time was had by all.
Feb. 15, 2020
Saturday put us on the road again with a trip to the Lexington and Concord of the Texas Revolution. Gonzales was very small potatoes in the overall scheme of things, but the small cannon provided a slogan for the revolution: “Come and Get it,” a challenge to the Mexicans to forcibly take the cannon from the settlers. We then headed to the official BBQ Capital of Texas, Lockhart. We ended up at Smitty’s, which by acclamation was the best meal of the trip! In a word—yummy! The day finished with a trip to the State History Museum in Austin. I must admit I was less than impressed; it was much too diverse and not thematically fulfilling. One humbling display was a special presentation of photography of the Civil Rights Movement, which no matter was deserving of a sober and deliberate consideration. I recalled Norm Dasinger, Jr., a BGES member, conducted a Civil Rights tour from Selma to Montgomery in conjunction with a Civil War tour.
Feb. 16, 2020
Our final day took us to Fredericksburg and the home of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz and the Museum of the War in the Pacific—absolutely compelling and no time for anything other than that. My third trip there and four hours were not enough. The biggest surprise to me was in the memorial garden, where I saw a tribute to a B-29 pilot from Danville, Virginia. Lea-Townes, his son, runs the largest funeral home in Danville. Never knew it. A 45-minute stop in Luckenbach, Texas, allowed us to have a Lone Star beer, hear some country music, and have a few great soft tacos. A trip over to the LBJ Ranch let us look over the grounds, but structural problems in Johnson’s home kept us from touring it. On this trip, I had the chance to see the park service video on LBJ, and it was a keeper.
Then, like that, our program was done. Things really were bigger in Texas. Buckee’s, their answer to a road stop service station, absolutely bowled us over, and our last group stop en route back to Houston was a fourth trip to that chain. If you are in Texas, check it out! Never know what you will see on a BGES program.
Fort Clinch Symposium
BGES also conducted a symposium at the end of January at Fort Clinch, Amelia Island, Florida. Hal Jespersen wrote a travel log report, which you can see here, and below please find photos from the successful event.