History – September 2018

Last month, as my devotees may recall, I promised you guys an exhaustive,
excruciating journey through Texas history from the very beginning, and et voila , here
we go off on our flying start.

If you remembered that much, then you might also recall that inmy last missive
I confided a shortcoming of mine, namely, that I have trouble knowing at what point to
begin a narrative; I suffer from an socially crippling compulsion to start telling even
the simplest story at the part where God says ‘Let there be light!’ In an attempt to
relate a simple anecdote about a funny thing that happened once in the high school
cafeteria in 1982, for instance, I’m liable to come to with a start halfway into a
dissertation on the history of public education in North America, touching on a few of
the finer points of the Magna Carta, and by this point my would-be listener has moved
out of state. I only mention it here as a bit of good news to you readers that this time
I’ve managed to resist my native urge to start our history, as Bugs Bunny did that time
he appeared on This is a Life? , with “ A little pool of water forms. In that pool: two tiny
amoeba, the start of life…”, at which point the emcee (Elmer Fudd) tells him to knock it
off and cut to the chase. I, on the other hand, don’t need no Elmer Fudd to tell me I
needn’t begin with the Big Bang. I shall start at a much more reasonable point, a
hundred thousand years or so ago.

I must insert a disclaimer here in light of the fact that people can get a little
touchy on this whole evolution/creationism thing. I want everyone to know that it’s
emphatically NOT MY INTENT to either make light of anyone’s beliefs nor to
promote my own, whatever those might be. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell
you honestly that it’s just not much of an issue for me. I don’t even think the two
theories are mutually exclusive, I mean why couldn’t God have created the universe
with a big bang or through evolution or in seven literal days or whatever? In the end
I feel like I can believe He did it without knowing exactly how.

Or, you can not believe God did it at all- look you guys, I’m not the religious
columnist around here. What do I know?
Anyway, I’m gonna write about some archaeological finds, and I hope everyone’s
ok with that. If you literally can’t even , skip down to the little star things and go on
from there.

Skipping the entirety of human evolution up to that point- which I’ve managed
to do, channeling my inner Elmer Fudd- and focusing solely on North America, in
general, and Texas in particular: various archaeological discoveries, theories and
schools of thought put human life in our part of the world anywhere from 100,000
years ago to a mere 13,000 years or so. What happens is that every new discovery and
each new technological innovation- including advances in DNA- push the human
timeline back a little further. For a long time everyone pretty much believed that a
discovery near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930s, proved that those so-called Clovis
people, or Paleo-Indians, were the first humans to arrive here in the US, about 13,000
calendar years ago, and in fact DNA shows that the Clovis are the direct ancestors of
about 80% of all Native American people living in North America right now. It was also
the pretty general idea that these first humans to reach our continent were “fully
evolved members of the species Homo sapiens ”, just like us, and that they got here via
something called the Bering Land Bridge, at the tail end of the Ice Age, or around
thirteen thousand years ago. See, a whole lot of the world’s water supply, which would
otherwise be filling up the oceans, was instead sucked up into glaciers and crazy-thick
sheets of ice that covered big swaths of the earth, up to two miles thick- so that sea
levels all over the planet were a lot lower than they are now, and some of the places
that would normally be covered by water, weren’t, including what is nowadays the
Bering Strait. Y’all remember when some Alaskan politician said she could see Russia
from her bathroom window or some such thing? She would’ve pulled that off,
presumably, by looking over the Bering Strait, a little ribbon of water (about 50 miles
wide) that flows between Cape Dezhnev in Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian
continent, and Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska, the westernmost point of the North
American continent. But 13k years ago there wasn’t any water in the strait- because of
the glaciers and stuff- and the idea is that people who were hunting just walked over
from Asia via this land bridge, and into North America, following some reindeer or
whatever they were hunting. They wouldn’t have known they were doing some big
thing in human evolution, they were just trying to get enough food in their bellies to
keep body and soul together.

But scientists have long debated as to whether or not these Paleo-Indians really
were the first to arrive, many believing that an earlier society predated them, and also
whether the Bering Land Bridge was in fact how the first people got here. Some have
argued that the first Americans got to this continent as long ago as 15,000 to 100,000
years ago or more, and that those earlier people came from the South, or from the
Pacific coast, the land bridge not being navigable that far back. In fact, a Harvard
Medical School geneticist has surmised that, according to the DNA evidence, the
“founding migration” didn’t happen all at one place, all at the same time, but that there
were instead founding migrations , plural, that the first humans came in several
different waves- as opposed to the long accepted conjecture that just that one group of
Paleo-Indians who came over the Bering Land Bridge were the ancestors of all the
indigenous people of the Americas.

At any rate, there’s a place in Texas, about a half-hour north of Austin, where
archaeologists and paleontologists hit paydirt not too long ago, discovering all kinds of
stuff that seem to prove that a society did predate the Clovis. Here’s something awful:
This site was first discovered in the 19 20s but not extensively excavated until interest
in it was revived in the 90s, with most of the really important discoveries happening
just within the last three years or so- that’s not the sad part. Here’s the sad part: in
the seven decades or so before archaeologists really got down to business in the 1990s,
the site was looted of just about- if not literally- every artifact that 1920s grave robbers
could carry off. What might we have learned from that priceless loot?! Fragments of
human teeth and more than ninety stone tools at the Gault Site have been found, but
only within the last fifteen or twenty years- they were deeper underground or else the
thieves certainly would’ve carted those off too. But that handful of teeth and the tools
ended up being enough to put the date of the site at 16,700 years ago, a whole lot
earlier than what had been thought. According to the director of research at the site:
“The most important takeaway is that people were in the New World much earlier
than we used to believe.”

To give a point of comparison, the first humans in England started showing up
around 800,000 years ago. This really is the New World, in a whole lotta ways. Still,
20,000 years- or 50,000, or 100,000, as some scholars have theorized- that’s nothing
to sneeze at. When all those white Europeans started showing up thousands of years
later, all of them carrying on about ‘discovering’ the place and going around claiming
this and that, the indigenous people must’ve looked at ‘em like they were cray-cray.
Then, in the interest of self-preservation, they really should’ve gone on to shove the
newcomers off a cliff, but they didn’t, and that’s how history goes.
But a lot of other stuff happened here in what we now call Texas between the
time those first immigrants arrived thousands and thousands of years ago, and the
September day only five hundred years ago when a Spanish fella named Cowhead
shipwrecked on the shore of Galveston Island and started acting like he owned the
place (there’s actually a little more to that story we’ll get into later on .) Before Mrs
DeVaca even started knitting the layette- in fact, a long, long time before Mrs D to the
V was even a twinkle in her grandfather to the 15th power’s eye- there were Chinese
people walking around in Texas.

At least, that’s according to a disputed theory that involves an ancient text
called the Shan Hai King , which roughly translated means The Classic of Mountains and
Seas . It was written around 2250 BC , so I wasn’t just kidding around when I said
‘ancient’- it predates the Old Testament by some 500 years- and the existence of the
actual book isn’t debated, or that it’s as old as it claims to be, just whether it
constitutes a book of myths or whether it contains actual accounts of prehistoric
exploration in North America, including parts of Texas. It’s been called “the world’s
oldest geography” by some, while others consider the mere suggestion to be
irresponsible and ignorant.

The Chinese have long, and I mean long, known of a beautiful land east of
China they called Fu Sang, the great storied Land to the East. This land beyond the
Eastern Sea, they said, was 3300 miles wide, bounded by vast oceans, with enormous
trees and all kinds of natural wonders, crazy animals, plants, and people whose
language sounded like barking dogs.

But back to this Classic of Mountains and Seas: part of this enormous book
describes a long overland journey of a thousand miles, a journey that happened like
4,500 to 6,000 years ago. The details of this exploration don’t match up to anything in
China, but all the landmarks, the rivers and streams and the animals and mountains
and rocks and minerals and all this stuff mentioned in the account, seem to line up
with only one place in the whole world, and that’s one swath of land stretching from
Wyoming all the way down to our very own Big Bend. These unnamed voyagers
described all kinds of things that matched up with this route, and only this route,
according to a computer…er, would algorithm be the word I’m groping for? For
instance, one of the weird animals they described as a small pig-like creature who
wasn’t exactly a pig, with a collar of gray fur around its neck, sounds an awful lot like a
critter called a collared peccary, or what we would call a javelina. Now, peccaries are
native only to North America, and that little collared fella has only EVER lived in a
handful of places in the American southwest, including parts of New Mexico, old
Mexico, Arizona and of course, our own Texas. So if these dudes saw javelinas, that’s
where they saw ‘em. They also talk about a bunch of other animals that could only be
found in America, including armadillos, possums, bald eagles, and coyotes, and
describe places too, like a “great luminous canyon” with “a stream flowing in a
bottomless ravine”, that Shan Hai King enthusiasts believe is the Grand Canyon,
discovered by Chinese explorers five thousand years ago.

There are some other weird things that kind of support the idea, like how chili
peppers and peanuts, also native only to North America, have figured in Chinese
cooking for a couple thousand years now, or how those same peanuts and peppers, as
well as corn- and bones of an American bison- have shown up in Chinese
archaeological sites dating back like four or five thousand years. China certainly had
the boats to make the trip back then, and Buddhist priests undisputedly did travel
long, long distances, even as far away as early Britain and the Roman Empire, and
native American lore tells of the arrival of strange people long before the Europeans
got to the party.

Course, there are other contenders for those strange people. Legends include
a group of Phoenician explorers blown west across the Atlantic Ocean in the 6th
century BC; early Christians, fleeing the Roman Empire, coming to the New World less
than a hundred years after the Crucifixion; St Brendan of Ireland in 550 AD, Welsh
prince Madoc in 1170- all of these early explorers’ tales put them somewhere in the
Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, or on the Texas coast long before anybody official got
here. People have found tantalizing, mystifying things- petroglyphs carved with
archaic Chinese characters, ancient coins depicting a map of the world with a
mysterious land mass right about where North America goes, long before anybody
knew anything was out there; inscriptions in runic, Iberian, Phoenician have been
discovered along the Rio Grande- a Hebrew inscription in Tennessee dates from the
2nd century AD, another, near Philadelphia, written in Basque , dating back to 800 BC.
There’s a handful of noodle-scratchers for ya.

So yeah, there are several nominations for People Who Got Here Way Before
DeVaca, and to be fair to poor Cowhead, he didn’t even claim to be the first guy here,
but a lot of people have claimed it for him in the five hundred years or so since he
showed up. He was the first to explore into the interior of Texas, though…or WAS he?
He was. That’s what M. Night Shyamalan and I call a twist. Anyway, DeVaca
was the first guy who documented everything and had it witnessed and notarized and
all. But you can’t discover a place if there are already thousands, maybe millions, of
people living there, whose ancestors have been living there forever, since the Bering
land bridge and maybe for æons before that. I remember way back in like, 3rd grade,
the first time I heard about Columbus ‘discovering’ America and how the natives all
came to watch him land on the… wait, what ? The natives ? Wait a second, what’s with
all this discovering business?

Anyway, to return to Section III, diagram 7, and I want to stress to you that this
will almost certainly be on the exam- hang on, I’m sorry, did you say something? Yeah,
with- the one, yes you, holding the magazine? The first English speaker in Texas?
That’s such an amazing question, and it’s like we’re on the exact same wavelength
because I was just fixing to talk about that! How crazy is that?? You & me man, I mean
right? We gotta hang out more.

In order to tell you who was the first English speaker in Texas I’ve got to give
you the set-up first- of course, like with everything I ever say, I can’t just go “It was
David Ingram” and leave it at that…well shoot. I’ve gone and told you. But see, this
proves my point, now you know his name but does that leave anybody any wiser? You
probably have like three Dave Ingrams in your friendlist, so this is where my habit of
long-winded over-explanation comes in handy.

The first thing you need to know is that during the 16th century, England and
Spain were not exactly on speaking terms. In fact they were in the rather rude habit of
killing each other all the time, especially at sea, since a lot of their issues had to do
with Spain’s jealous protection of her stronghold in the New World and every time
they saw what looked like an English ship loitering around their possessions in the
Americas, (whistling casually and jangling the change in their pockets, acting like they
hadn’t even noticed anything, Oh, that’s Spain? Wow!) – they got to acting like my
poodle does when he has a bone hidden somewhere and every time you walk by he
growls at you and you’re like, “Dude chill, I’m not interested in your stupid bone,”
except that England was interested in Spain’s stupid bone. All these bad feelings
would eventually erupt as the Anglo-Spanish War beginning in 1885, which included
the defeat of the Spanish Armada, it was in all the papers.

Second thing, (not to get way into it, according to my new vow of brevity), but
there seems to have been a pretty fine line between a pirate and a privateer, that line
consisting entirely of a letter from your government saying it’s ok to be a pirate, as
long as you cut the government in on a share of the spoils, which promotes the holder
of said letter to the status of privateer. Of course, the letter from the government
doesn’t cut any mustard with the people from whom you are stealing, they tend to be
unreasonable about it and call you a pirate anyway, and you can wave your letter
around all you want but they’re still gonna want to murder you and all. So that’s what
was up in…

…the Fall of 1567 a privateer by name of Sir John Hawkins set out from England
with six ships for a quick trip to Africa’s “Slave Coast”, which was supposed to play out
like this: Buy slaves, shoot over to the West Indies and sell the poor kidnapped human
beings at an enormous profit, head home to England with the cargo hold full of New
World gold. It didn’t play out quite like that. They did the first three things and were
just commencing on the fourth, the heading home part, when karma, or a huge
tropical storm, or karma in the form of a huge tropical storm, got ahold of the fleet just
as they got to the Caribbean, and battered the hell out of them, and finished up by
blowing them all the way into the Gulf, just a few miles off the coast of Mexico. This
wasn’t good- there was all that bad juju I mentioned between England and Spain.. But
there was no way they were getting back to England in this shape, so Hawkins took
advantage of the right of ships to seek haven from storms in the nearest port- “any
port in a storm”, that’s where that comes from- and limped into Veracruz, Mexico,
smack-dab in the middle of Spanish territory. They fixed up his ships there in
Veracruz, and Hawkins started for home again, but karma walloped him upside the
head again in the shape of thirteen Spanish ships that attacked his fleet just as soon as
it set foot- or would it be keel?- outside the harbor. The fight that ensued went down
in history under the name of the battle of San Juan de Ulúa- and that’s not all that
went down in history. By the time the fat lady sang, four ships of Hawkins’ fleet of six
were at the bottom of the gulf, along with all that sweet Spanish oro Hawkins had
created via the evil alchemy that magically turned human misery into cash for
hundreds of years- and the topside of the Gulf was littered with English sailors
bobbing around like buoys. Of the two ships left, the Judith , whose captain was a guy
called Francis Drake, you may’ve heard of him- Frank and Judith and company, having
had enough for the moment, lit out for England once again and apparently the third
time was a charm. The second ship, the Minion , under command of that old seadog
Hawkins, fished the survivors out of the water and pointed her
whatever-the-front-part-of-a-ship-is-called toward home as well. With less success.
Quoth our old friend David Ingram, who as member of the crew had been
through this whole circus along with Hawkins, Drake et al: “With manie sorowful hearts
wee wandered in an unknown Sea by the space of fourteen days tyll hunger inforced us to
seeke the lande.” The Minion was overcrowded and understocked, and Ingram, along
with one hundred and thirteen other men, asked for the ship to pull over and let them
out. They’d had enough fun for one trip and figured that if they stuck around any
longer, “if they perished notte by drowning, yet hunger would inforce them the eatte one
another.” At the very least, they figured, things couldn’t be too much more grim on

The sailors went ashore about thirty miles north of Tampico, which would be a
couple hundred miles below Brownsville, Texas, which wasn’t there in 1567. It was
October 8, and these battered, half-starved, waterlogged scarecrows had just landed
deep in enemy territory with no clue what to do next and nothing to do it with, just a
vague idea that some of their own countrymen might be found somewhere off to the
Northeast. And they proceeded to do what lost, terrified, clueless people have done
and always do, from the beginning of our time on earth: they took one step, followed it
up with another one, and just kept on putting one foot in front of the other one. I
mean what are you gonna do? So much of what we think of as bravery or courage is
just like that, it’s the just keeping on walking, keeping on getting out of bed and
brushing your teeth, putting on your bra and remembering to breathe, although I have
no evidence to suggest that these stranded sailors wore bras. You know that saying,
giving up is not an option? I mean, it really isn’t , unless you actually kill yourself, and
most all of us, it turns out, have this really strong determination to stay alive no matter
how bad things get, so when things do get really awful and there’s nothing else to do,
most of us just keep on waking up and being, just plodding forward. I’ve been told a
couple of times that I’ve been brave during this or that thing that’s happened (mostly
by people trying to flatter me up because they’re about to ask me to make the rice and
beans for a bbq), and really thinking about it I realized that for real, all in the world I
did was just not kill myself. I wasn’t brave, I was often terrified and gave up all the
time and bitched and felt sorry for myself, but I just kept on living anyway. Maybe, I
don’t know, sometimes maybe that’s all that bravery or courage or whatever, is , just
stubbornly refusing to quit breathing and keeping on trudging along til things get to
looking up.

Woof, what was that ? You don’t hafta read that paragraph at all, actually. NOW
I tell you, right?
Well David Ingram and his companions started their trek with those single
steps and their vague, sort of hopeless intentions, to wit, they, “thought it best to
travell along by the Sea coast, to seeke out some place of habitation: whether they
were Christians or Savages, we were indifferent.” After some of their number were
(almost immediately) killed by natives and half of them decided to try their luck by
heading west (where they were captured by the Spanish and enslaved), the rest of the
sailors- all told, about 25 men- put David Ingram in charge and they struck out for the

Hawkins, meanwhile, finally made it back to England in January, 1569, after a
miserable voyage. “Our men being oppressed with Famine, died continually,” he wrote
of the last leg of that journey, “wee were scantly able to manure [maneuver] our ship.”
If he ever thought about those 114 men he’d left on the shore of Mexico- and I bet he
did- he must’ve heaved a sigh, the canny old pirate, I mean privateer, and said a
prayer for their souls, crossed himself, although I don’t think he was Catholic, in fact,
I think that was a big part of the unpleasantness between England and Spain and
Henry VII and all, but you know what I mean. At any rate, I don’t have any
documentation to prove this, but I know Sir John Hawkins leapt out of his chair like his
butt was on fire when three of those dudes walked into his parlor a year later.
After eleven months wandering on the North American continent, David Ingram
and two of his comrades, Richard Brown and Richard Twyde, found themselves near
the head of a river, “60 leagues west from Cape Britton,” Ingram figured, “ where they
understode by the people of that countrye, of the aryvall of a Christian.” Their
journey, it seemed, was over.

It was the Fall of 1569, and a French trading ship, the Gargaryne [or La
Gargarine , all this is from a time before spelling was standardized], captained by one M
Champaign, was in port at the little fishing village of Cape Breton on the easternmost
tip of (what’s today) Nova Scotia. If you don’t know where Cape Breton is, picture the
state of Maine in your head, take a hard right, and get to walking til you run out of
land, and way out there on the tippy-tip of Nova Scotia, hanging out into the ocean,
that’s Cape Breton. You can see Newfoundland from Cape Breton (I’m told), and you
might even be able to see Greenland from Cape Breton, but Newfoundland’s in the
way. Anyway, I don’t know exactly what Captain Champaign and the Gargaryne were
doing in Cape Breton this particular day in autumn, 1569, until the moment when three
guys in a “native canoe” pulled up alongside the bigger boat and asked if they could
climb aboard. And once on board, they told a tale that pinned M Champaign’s ears

“Sir,” the three men told Champaign, “You’re looking at the first three
Europeans to walk across the continent of North America.” Nah, they didn’t say that.
They might’ve cried a lot in relief and kissed the ground and stuff, or maybe they
looked around the ship and said Huh, it’s gonna be tough riding on one of these things
again after that last business, or they might’ve said, a little sheepishly, Dude, Cap’n, I
know this is weird but I would pay you for a clean pair of chonies man, I haven’t
changed my shorts in a year and they’re like literally just a waistband anymore. I don’t
know the kinda shipboard etiquette thing. But they did manage to get across to the
surely astonished Captain Champaign that they’d just spent the last year traipsing
from Tampico, Mexico, to Cape Breton, a distance of three thousand miles. Three

Champaign gave them a ride home. “[T]here found a French Captaine named
Monsieur Champaigne, who tooke them into his Shippe and brought them unto
Newhaven, & from thence they were transported into England, Anno Dom. 1569.”
Once back in England they barged in on Sir John Hawkins, who gave them an
unspecified reward after he finished picking up all his teeth from the floor, or his
eyeballs, or whatever had fallen out when these three ghosts had shown up in his
midst and scared the bejesus out of him. As for him, Sir John, he and Francis Drake
(who also got sirred) both became admirals and went back and beat the tar out of the
Spanish Armada later on.

And the three travelers went back to their lives too. They were all illiterate, so
they didn’t write their adventures down, but they were said to have been great
storytellers and turned their tales into pints in the taverns of London for years. The
two Richards eventually died, and then one day David finally caught the interest of
somebody official, who interviewed him and wrote down the story of this last survivor,
which was published in 1582 as Ye Relation of David Ingram of Barking, in ye Countie of
Essex, Sayler [sailor]. Books were often given catchy titles like that back in the day.
Ingram told of the animals he and his companions had seen in the New World,
including lots of buffalo, bear, horses, cattle, wolves, foxes, deer, goats, sheep, hares
and conies- which is how the British still differentiate between things like jackrabbitswho
are hares- and cottontails. The horse thing is especially interesting, since the
Spanish explorers were only supposed to have introduced horses to North America in
1519, when some of them were thought to have escaped and gone native, eventually
creating herds numbering into the hundreds of thousands. But it’s always been
believed that it took them a lot longer that fifty years to populate to that extent. On the
other hand, there did used to be horses here, a long, long time ago, I’m talking about
8,000 to 12,000 years ago, and indigenous people always insisted that horses were
known and domesticated long before the arrival of Europeans, so…what’s that all

Ingram also made another claim that’s caused people to look at him askance
(like he’s nuts), and that’s this one right here: “He did alsoe see in that countrye boath
Eliphantes and ounces.” Ounces, that’s ok, that’s easy enough, because that’s what
they called lynxes, or bobcats or pumas- that kinda thing. I’ll tell you the truth- I’ve
never really known the difference between any of those things, and call the lot of ‘em
mountain lions and hope no one presses me on it. The same thing with donkeys,
jackasses, burros , mules, et al. Eliphantes, though, you can figure that one out in spite
of the oddball spelling. In another place I’ve seen it quoted ‘olifants’ and I still knew
what he was getting at. David Ingram said he saw elephants in Texas.
I’ve read various speculation about this claim of his- that Ingram made it up
out of whole cloth, maybe to impress his ghostwriter, maybe because he’d forgotten
some stuff in the intervening twelve or so years and was trying to jazz it up. Or that
he’d been spinning his yarn in pubs around town and his story had gotten crazier with
each successive telling. Or that he was simply a liar, he didn’t walk any 3,000 miles, a
boat picked him up and took him to Nova Scotia and to hell with that guy anyway.
But…a couple of things. First of all, a lot of explorers have made wildly
extravagant claims about things they’ve seen on their travels, including Marco Polo,
but their basic credibility remains intact. But there’s still another way of thinking.
Texan author CF Echhardt talked about two monsters of native lore, the pasnuta of the
Osage people and the caranco of the Bidai, both of which were described by Indians old
enough to have seen them, as looking a lot like an elephant. Eckhardt wondered if
what Ingram saw, and what the Osage and Bidai people called pasnuta or carancro,
might have been the last of the wooly mammoths. These creatures, Eckhardt stressed,
“have been called ‘mythical monsters’ only because white men never saw them (or at
least never saw them and lived to tell about it.) To the Indians neither pasnuta nor
carancro were mythical.” And after all, these ‘monsters’ hadn’t been gone all that long,
according to the natives, by the time Europeans started showing up en masse around
1600- they had existed in living memory, after all. “Did David Ingram, the first
English-speaking white man we know for sure walked in Texas, actually see a living
mammoth or mastodon- perhaps even more than one- here in Texas in the
mid-1500s?” Eckhardt pondered.

One more thing about those olifants. Ingram’s claim to have seen elephant-like
monsters in Texas was not the first mention made of such a thing. You know who else
said they’d seen elephants here? Those ancient Chinese travelers from the Shan Hai
Wheels within wheels.


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