your favorite Texas hero?"
Whenever I'm asked that question, I may say Sam
Houston or Lorenzo de Zavala or Nicholas
Labadie or …
Fact is, I can't make up my mind. It really depends on whom I'm
reading about at the time. Ask me now, and I'd say Gail
Borden, the subject of my most recent column. I've continued
to read about the inventor of condensed milk so I have more to report.
For starters, did you know he and accused murderess Lizzie Borden
That hardly makes him a hero, and it's totally irrelevant in Texas
history. Nevertheless, I just couldn't wait to share that bit of
family gossip (good Borden/bad Borden) that I learned only a day
or so ago.
OK, let's get down to Texas business here.
Did you know Borden rode his pet bull around town in Galveston?
Can't you see the locals shrugging, eyes rolling, when they saw
Borden approaching on his bull. "Move over, give Gail some room."
newcomers to Galveston
may have had a different reaction, not accustomed to such a sight.
They may have fled to the nearest building and locked the door.
While Gail Borden had the reputation of the town eccentric, he also
was a mission-minded, spiritual man who helped the poor and befriended
Meet Borden the Baptist.
First Baptist Church was organized at a meeting in 1840 in the home
of Gail's brother, Thomas. Soon afterward, Gail and his wife, Penelope,
were reported to be the first Anglo-Americans baptized in the Gulf
of Mexico west of the Mississippi.
He served as a deacon, Sunday school missionary and trustee of the
Texas Baptist Education Society, the organization that founded Baylor
University. He also was an officer in the local temperance society
and fought to rid Galveston
In his early years as an inventor, Borden came up with a scheme
to make jelly from the horns and hooves of oxen. It never caught
As mentioned in the previous column,
his amphibious schooner sank. He also invented a movable bath house
for the ladies at the beach, and that never made much of a splash.
Devastated when his wife died in a yellow fever epidemic in 1844,
Borden sought to fight the summer-time disease with a refrigeration
project. He eventually abandoned that invention, though, to concentrate
on the meat biscuit.
In addition to a gold medal in London, the meat biscuit won a prize
in the first state fair held in Texas
Christi. It probably didn't hurt that his business partner,
Ashbel Smith, served as superintendent of the state fair and on
the jury at the London Exhibition. (Just sayin'.)
In spite of the prizes, though, the meat biscuit was a big commercial
wanted to help people. He got the idea for the meat biscuit, for
example, after hearing about 36 people in the Donner Expedition
starving to death in a snow storm en route to California.
His idea for
condensed milk came during his voyage home from London. When two
cows on the ship got sick, babies on board didn't have enough milk.
He heard them crying and wanted desperately to help.
And he did. His invention of condensed milk provided the assurance
of safe milk that could be stored and go the distance. The invention
also made him rich and famous and served as the basis of the Borden
Co., known throughout the world.
The inscription on Borden's gravestone says it all: "I tried and
failed - I tried again and again and succeeded."
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist, October 1, 2014 column
See Gail Borden by Wanda Orton
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