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Chunking Rocks

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Wonder if Texas boys still chunk rocks?

Since you have to be playing outside to pick a rock off the ground, it seems doubtful. These days, if an activity does not involve a device with a screen on it, most boys are not particularly interested.

Probably even Baby Boomer boys did not resort to rock throwing as often as previous generations of kids. We had comic books and three-network black and white television to keep us inside, though compared to today's young people we still spent a lot of time outdoors. But back when Texas was mostly a rural state, say when my granddad was a youngster, rock throwing was as common as, well, a rock.

Of course, even then rock-chunking was nothing new. Prehistoric man used rocks for hunting, self-defense or aggression, the propellant ranging from arm muscle to sling shot to giant catapult. Tossing larger rocks-stoning-became a brutal manner of execution. And everyone knows the story of David and Goliath.

Sometimes, rocks flew more out of mischief than malice aforethought.

"The habit the irrepressible small boy has of throwing rocks on the streets should be promptly put an end to by the police," the Austin Statesman said in an editorial foot stomp on Oct. 21, 1881. "A lot of boys throwing rocks near the Land Office yesterday struck a well known young lady on the head and the blow came very near knocking her down. The past time must be stopped."

In the spring of 1886, the Fort Worth Gazette reported that one fellow got 90 days in the Dallas jail for "intimidating employees and throwing rocks at them."

Basically, there are only two motivations for throwing a rock at someone. The more justified circumstance is self-defense. Someone has thrown a rock at you or otherwise demonstrated threatening behavior and you look around for a retaliatory missile. Or, despite what the Bible says, you chunk the first rock.

A subset of aggressive rock throwing, again more common in the past than today, would be a situation in which a person likely would resort to a firearm if they had one in hand. For instance, an unarmed early day Texas sheriff once tried to stop a jail escape by throwing rocks at the fleeing felon. The bad guy picked up some rocks and returned fire but the lawman prevailed.

To paraphrase the sound old admonition about never bringing a knife to a gunfight, someone occasionally had the misjudgment of bringing a rock to a gunfight. In San Antonio in the summer of 1886, the joint proprietors of a saloon fell into disagreement over business matters. One of the parties threw a beer glass at his partner, who then chased him outside onto the street. There, the man who had tossed the beer glass began hurling rocks at his associate. Sidestepping the flying stones, the partner fetched his revolver and sent a smaller leaden object speeding in the rock thrower's direction. Fortunately for that guy, he survived his bullet wound and presumably learned an important lesson. In another instance of rocks vs. firearm, the victim of a rock attack near Paris, Texas in 1894 settled the matter with his rifle. That led to his assailant's permanent tie to a rock of another sort-a tombstone.

While dodging rocks is easier than dodging bullets, a rock can still hurt or kill. Look at it this way: The average speed a professional baseball pitcher can hurl a hardball is 91 miles an hour. Even a stout country boy probably wouldn't be able to put that much energy into tossing a rock, but if he came close, that speed amounts to a velocity of roughly132 feet per second. A standard .38 caliber bullet travels 671 feet per second. That's a lot faster-and deadlier-than a flying rock but something hitting you at a speed approaching 90 miles an hour is going to hurt.

Sometimes a rock tosser just wants to show off.

My grandmother told me that when my granddad was courting her in San Angelo back around 1915, they were out for a walk one evening when they spotted a jackrabbit. My granddad picked up a rock, threw it and knocked over the big-eared bunny. Granddad must have been kind of proud of himself, but my horrified grandmother lit into him with a stinging verbal rebuke. Fortunately, grandmother got over it or I wouldn't be here to pass along the story.

Another way to show off, and much more peacefully, is to skip a flat rock across water. Rock skipping even has a bit of Texas folklore attached to it. I never heard this as a kid, but when a fellow successfully caused a rock to bounce across the top of water, supposedly the number of skips represented the number of miles away his future true love lived.

If Granddad was that good at throwing rocks, he should have tried to impress my grandmother by escorting her to the Concho River, looking around for the flattest rock he could find and then skipping it just once before it sank.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" September 27, 2018

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    Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

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  • Camp Mabry 8-29-18
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