was a momentous occasion for me. There I was in San
Antonio on Friday at two in the afternoon, and I was finally going
to meet Ruthie Cade. Literally minutes before, I had been able to
find, after a previous failed attempt, the gray granite Centennial
Marker placed at the grave of Perry
Alsbury in a hidden, overgrown area within earshot of I-10. That
marker for Alsbury
was the 1,089th marker I have seen of the 1,136 placed way back in
1936 to memorialize the multi-year celebration of Texas' Independence
from Mexico. Here I was, after having seen nearly 96% of that total,
meeting the one person who made a lot of that search possible.
| Perry Alsbury
Centennial Marker in sight
Gibson, May 2012
is the eighty-one year old (by her own admission) retired Army Lt
Colonel whose notes of location and contact information on lost 1936
Gray Granite Centennial Historical Markers I had been using for
more than three years. Without those notes for markers in more than
70 Texas counties, I would have had to spend countless hours on the
internet and phone, and would have driven many miles making many U-Turns
down dusty county roads. As I have said to others about getting to
some of these remote markers, "Just because Ruthie Cade saw it doesn't
mean I can do it, too."
In 1936 the placement of these 1,136
museums, fort restorations, statues, monuments as well as these granite
markers, placed in nearly every one of the 254 counties of Texas,
may have made a lot of sense, but with the passage of all this time,
roads have changed or closed, subdivisions and interstate highways
have been built, and floods have eroded cemeteries. Many markers have
been moved or are now well secluded from civilization deep inside
private property. Over the years, the scant location information of
a great many of these markers have been lost or misplaced.
After getting directions to her house from the security guard in her
gated retirement community, I had finally arrived for the meeting.
The first woman who came out of the house was who I call, The Face
of Centennial Markers, Charlotte Phillips. She is Ruthie's close friend
who traveled with Ruthie and often stood by the marker as Ruthie took
the photo. I felt that I knew Charlotte but I wouldn't have been able
to pick Ruthie out of a police lineup.
When Ruthie did come out, I don't think she shook my hand or even
made a greeting. The first thing she said was, "I want to see your
machete." It was like only the real Barclay Gibson would have such
a weapon. I happened to have mentioned to Ruthie in one of our infrequent
emails that I carried a machete as it is sometimes necessary to hack
my way to some long forgotten, over grown, neglected cemetery to see
some even longer neglected Centennial Grave Marker placed there over
75 years ago in memory of an individual who played an important part
in Texas History. She wasn't kidding. I had to open my tool box and
actually pull it out of its scabbard to satisfy her that I really
was who I said I was.
That opened the door for the next three hours of a conversation almost
exclusively devoted to our various visits to Centennial
Historical Markers located all over the state. At this point,
let me say that it is not particularly easy to strike up a casual
conversation on a series of events occurring back in the 1930s, even
if it is a subject so dear to the heart of most Texans as the Centennial
Celebration of Texas independence from Mexico. We shared stories of
cuts from thorn bushes, keys lost when crawling under fences, land
owners reluctant to let us on their property, bee stings from swarms
in collapsing houses, rattlesnakes guarding markers, photos of markers
taken by the light of headlights, rocky hiking trails taken because
a four wheel drive vehicle was needed to go any further, even of one
land owner who knocked the marker over and covered it with dirt, and,
of course, of seeing a marker only after hacking a path to a cemetery.
There is one story in particular that Ruthie enjoys telling. It was
about a remote marker that she really wanted to see. The land owner
told her about where to find it and then added, “Be sure to watch
out for the feral pigs.” Not knowing much about feral pigs, she asked,
“Are they dangerous.” He responded that they had not killed anyone,
yet. She kept that word, yet, in mind as she searched for the marker.
Thankfully, the pigs were off somewhere else when I saw that same
marker several years later.
Of course, Charlotte was a part of our conversation because Ruthie
rarely took a photo without some subject next to it. Her subjects
included Park Rangers, cousins, nieces and nephews, ranchers, land
owners and caretakers, but most often that person was Charlotte.
Most conversations have side tracks where you start telling one story
and that reminds you of something else and before long the original
tale is forgotten. Not with Ruthie. It must be her military training
and a natural instinct to follow something to its intended conclusion.
On several occasions she would say something like, "You mentioned
monuments, we'll come back to that later." We always did. I can't
think of a single rabbit-track that we didn't come back to and get
to the conclusion.
the only other person who could have kept up with those three hours
of tales and counter-tales would have been Sarah
Reveley. Working as a volunteer directly with the Texas Historical
has been the stimulus behind locating and photographing these markers.
She sent me Ruthie's notes and put me in touch with Ruthie in the
first place. She, too, lives in San
Antonio and had some kind of meeting going on until about 5 o'clock.
meeting was over, we all met at a popular local Mexican food restaurant
to wrap up all the stories we could cram into our all too short a
gathering of marker aficionados.
After the delicious
meal, the four of us gathered at a nearby Centennial marker for
a once in a lifetime chance to take a group photo next to one of
these unnoticed markers on a busy San
Antonio highway. Probably not one person in a thousand has even
looked at it as they drove right by the marker commuting to and
from work every day. After the photo was taken, we each went our
separate way relishing the time spent with others who share a rather
esoteric interest in bringing these 76 year old markers back to
life, if even just for our own satisfaction of knowing where, when
and why they were erected in the first place.
I had much to think about on my nearly 500 miles back home in Carlsbad,
New Mexico... Wait just a minute, New Mexico?? You wrote all that
and now you say you are not even a native born Texan but are from
the state of ... New Mexico? Why in the world would someone from
New Mexico have this interest in Texas
history? Why would a ‘foreigner’ coordinate with three other
volunteers to drive all over our great state of Texas
trying to find these markers? All I can say is that from the beginning,
I’ve been trying to figure that out myself, over 120,000 miles ago.
Perry Alsbury Centennial Marker:
| Perry Alsbury
Gibson, May 2012
| Trail Near I-10
to Centennial Marker
Gibson, May 2012