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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"

THE CAUDLES:
A FAMILY OF ENTERTAINERS

by Robert G. Cowser
A memory of chipped Kewpie dolls and other chalk figures comes to me when I recall the Arthursí farm house. My parents, my brother and I used to visit the Arthurs on occasion when I was a child. They lived two miles south of Saltillo near the site of the original town. On those evenings while the adults talked, I wandered from one table or shelf to another in the sitting room where many of the ornamental dolls and chalk animals were located. Almost every vacant space on a table or a what-not shelf held two or three of the dolls. Even in the dim light of a kerosene lamp the dolls showed signs of age. Hands were missing from some of the human figures, but they fascinated me nevertheless. I associated these figures with the carnivals where my parents had taken my brother and me two or three times. The figures were similar to the prizes available to those who could toss a ring over a stake from a certain distance or throw a baseball through a small space in a designated target. They reminded me of an exotic life into which I had only glimpsed.

Before Johnnie was born, Charles Caudle, Johnnie Arthurís father, took his wife and infant daughter, Georgia, with him in a covered wagon drawn by oxen and began stopping in towns to perform his one-man show. According to Georgia, in 1894 the troupe left from Bowie, Texas, to begin a circuit. Over the next several years five other daughters and one son were added to the family, among them Johnnie.

Caudle, a ventriloquist, performed in country schoolhouses with his wooden doll named Tommy. Georgia began to perform when she was two and one-half years old, singing and dancing for the audiences. As she and her sister Mary grew older, one accompanied on the piano while both sang. In 1984 Georgia wrote that she remembered handling snakes in order to amaze an audience. As each Caudle became old enough to sing a melody or dance a step, the child began to perform.

Caudle began to hire clowns and other performers, and as the troupe grew, it was transformed into a circus. Sixteen wagons were required to transport the crew from town to town. In 1913 the Charles Caudle Show merged with Lockman and Lewis. After that merger, the Caudles traveled by train.

Shortly after Johnnie married Dow Arthur, one of her fatherís employees, the pair left the troupe and settled on the farm near Saltillo. Georgia also married and moved to Raymondville.

On those evenings after we had visited the Arthurs, my parents would tell my brother and me about the performances of the Caudle troupe they had seen before I was born. My father said that Johnnie could play not only a piano but also an accordion and a violin. I tried to imagine the grandmother of my brotherís classmate as one who had been in show business. Motion pictures and radio replaced the Caudlesí traveling show and the others like it, but one wonders whether there ever will be a valid substitute for live performances.

© Robert G. Cowser
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
Guest Column, March 29, 2011
More Columns by Robert G. Cowser
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This page last modified: March 29, 2011