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Charley Eckhardt

The Art of Story Telling

A Personal Remembrance of
Charley Eckhardt

Thanks to Charley Eckhardt’s self-described “sidekick” John Tolleson, I learned of Charley’s death a few days ago. I never got to know Charley on a personal level, but over the years, I did get to visit him – whenever my travels took me anywhere near Sequin. - Ed.

Back when Texas Escapes was getting started - around 2001, I found myself in the library in Bastrop, Texas. In the Texana section, I found Charley Eckhardt. Not the actual man, mind you, but Charley’s book Tales Your Teacher Never Told You. The title was intriguing and irresistible.

On the flyleaf, it stated that the author lived in Seguin, Texas – a town not that far from where I sat. I had enjoyed the stories and set out to find Mr. Eckhardt; intent on convincing him that exposure in an then-unknown magazine on “the Internet” would provide him an appreciative audience.

Arriving in Seguin and inquiring at the library, I was directed to a barber shop just off the square. It was getting better and better. I imagined this was where Mr. Eckhardt held court, entertaining Seguin’s hairy and unshaven male population with ripping good yarns. I wasn’t too far off the mark.

The barber shop itself was bare bone. No cracker barrel or pot belied stove. It was two chairs if I remember correctly, and fewer cuspidors than one would expect. I introduced myself and asked Mr. Eckhardt if he spelled his name Charlie or Charley. “E-y”, he told me. Adding that “ie” is a woman’s perfume.

I wasn’t there 10 minutes when I learned that the corner a half block away was the “most famous intersection in Texas.” (Where the Old Spanish Trail crossed El Camino Real.) This was something else my teachers had not told me.

Charley said he’d consider my proposal after he did some homework. In 2006 we started running his column. On one visit I inquired about a ghost town in the vicinity and since it was near closing time, Charley locked up and escorted me to Sutherland Springs. After Charley’s description of the place in its heyday, I felt as if I had lived in Sutherland Springs in a previous life. I remember Charley taking me inside the town’s roofless bank to photograph a tree growing through the floor.

On another visit we had lunch at a restaurant where Charley was greeted by name – and we ate huge burgers that had been named in his honor. I got to hear how Charley had once eaten “Ma” Ferguson’s molasses cookies – served to him as a boy when he and his father visited Bell County after the former governor had left office. Charley said that it was probably Ferguson’s maid who had made the cookies – but he ate them in the Ferguson’s house, therefore… He also said they were the best molasses cookies he had ever eaten.

The name Eckhardt (with a few variations in spelling) is familiar in the German settled parts of Texas. Charley told me of a two-car traffic accident in Yorktown, Texas where each driver had the surname Eckhardt. But what makes the story worth telling is that the investigating policeman was also an Eckhardt.

Each visit with Charlie brought a new story. Or ten. I had asked him about his extensive research and he said that “being married to a librarian has been a tremendous help.”

Charley once brought up O. Henry’s incarceration (for embezzlement). While there have been repeated arguments about O.Henry’s innocence or guilt over the years, Charley knew he was guilty. How? Because Charley’s grandfather had been the bank examiner of Austin at the time. Whom are you going to believe? A short-story writer from New York City or Grandpa?

Early on, I had abandoned thoughts of taking notes when Charley spoke. I heard the story of Seguin’s headless ghost – as Charley pointed out his path from the passenger seat. It was on that same trip Charley told me of a more personal ghostly encounter – one that can still bring a chill.

As I remember it, the incident took place somewhere north of Austin when Charley was still a boy. He was on horseback; riding from point A to point B. Some delay had forced him to ride at night. He was riding carefully, but at a good clip. Suddenly there was a bolt of lightening in the distance which revealed a woman directly in front of him, carrying a baby in her arms. She was running and obviously in distress. Charley described her as wearing a 19th century dress. Too late to stop, both horse and rider passed through the woman and the child she held.

When the city of Seguin finally erected an equestrian statue of Juan Seguin, Charley, an authority of military equipment did an impromptu critique on the correctness of the statue, from the pommel to Mr. Sequin’s spurs. Charley had good words for the sculptor. But the highlight of that day was when he showed me a barely visible iron spike in one of the trees on the square. Charley explained this was a “beeve tree” where on market days, left over strips of meat from butchers would be hung here – made available to the people who couldn’t afford the “high-priced” cuts. Tangible proof of frontier charity and frugality, it’s soon to be forgotten - covered by the callus growth of the tree.

Our most memorable trip was one with Charley’s longtime friend John Tolleson when the three of us drove to San Antonio to see a reenactment of the arrival of the famed Texas Camel Corps. Charley, standing at the holiest shrine in Texas, was surrounded by living history and he was delighted. It was one of the rare occasions when I saw Charley smile. I got the feeling that he’d smile more often if people would just take the time to acknowledge the history that surrounds them.

He was a historian’s historian but he never let stuffy academic arguments get in the way of a great story. Plus, he gave a mean haircut.

An excerpt from his obit from the First Presbyterian Church of Seguin’s program revealed several facts I had not known. Charley preferred to talk about history more than himself.

The obituary from Charley’s funeral service is included here:

In Memoriam

Charles “Charley” Frederick Eckhardt
March 15th, 1940 - May 18th 2015

(Transcribed from the funeral service obituary of the First Presbyterian Church of Seguin. Texas.)

Charles “Charley” Frederick Eckhardt was born March 15th 1940 to George Frederick Arthur Eckhardt and Evelyn Hallman Hooper Eckhardt in Austin, Texas. He passed away in the early hours of May 18th, 2015 at GRMC, following a brief illness. He grew up in Austin and graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1958. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and graduated in 1963 with a degree in history. While attending UT, he met the love of his life Vicki Jean Zeff Walker. They married on December 27th, 1962 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A lifelong historian, Charles was primarily interested in Texas history and Southern history, particularly the War Between the States (he never used the Yankee term “Civil War"). As a teenager to young man, he was a proud member of Children of the Confederacy and attended several conventions while in HS and college. He was also an avid gun collector. He spent many years participating in a Texas Parks and Wildlife program down in Cotulla teaching teenagers proper gun safety with his specialty being black powder guns.

He also used his interest to pen a column for the Seguin Gazette for many years. In addition to writing a Texas history column, he authored or co-authored several books on Texas history, including The Lost San Saba Mines and Texas Tales Your Teacher Never Told You. He was also a contributing writer for the Tombstone Epitaph, a newspaper in Tombstone, Arizona, specializing in Western history. For many years he maintained a membership in Western Writers of America and was a Silver Spur winner for his short stories.

Over the course of his working life, he had several careers including Insurance Salesman (which he did not enjoy). Patrol and Warrant Officer for the City of Richardson, Texas, private security at North Park Mall in Dallas before going to Barber’s College and opening his shop in Seguin in the Fall of 1977. He also spent nearly 20 years serving in the National Guard. He attended OCS at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, achieved the rank of Major and was part of the 101st Field Artillery. In between and during these various occupations. He continued to write. He was also a storyteller and enjoyed participating in the Haunted Seguin tours, telling ghost stories at the Aumont Hotel.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years Vicki, his daughter Kristin Mueller, grandchildren Stephen Mueller, Tyler Mueller, Latessa Crouch (Robert) and honorary grandson Allen Stapleton, great grandchildren Ryan, Kaliegh, Trinity and Rese, as well as several cousins. A memorial service celebrating his life will be held on Saturday, May 30th at the First Presbyterian Church of Seguin. In lieu of flowers, the family requests a memorial donation to the Heritage Museum of Seguin or the Magnolia Hotel Restoration Fund at Palpal@magnolia.hotel@ghedi.com or mail to Magnolia Hotel Restoration Fund, 203 Crockett Street, Seguin, Texas.

Books by C. F. Eckhardt

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