The Atypical Institute of Texas Cultures


The lady carrying the pot on her head was an early Texan.  She was a member of the Caddo tribe and lived in what is now the eastern part of the Lone Star State.  Her town had temples and plazas.  The men she knew were farmers and hunters.  If she lived in the middle of the 16th century, she may have seen some male European explorers.  About 5,000 of her people still live in Texas, Oklahoma, etc.   I took her picture in the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio.

The Institute of Texas Cultures is affiliated with the Smithsonian.  Its building was once a World’s Fair pavilion because back in 1968 San Antonio hosted HemisFair, an international exposition involving 30 countries. HemisFair’s theme was the celebration of the many groups, like the Caddos, who contributed to Texas culture.   After the fair closed, some wise curators kept the good stuff on view and ITC became a permanent, excellent museum.

The Institute of Texas Cultures provides a lively, often unexpected education in the history of the people of Texas.  Well prepared volunteers, like some quilting ladies, were available to tell me about the past.  After I learned about the Clovis people and other native settlers, I moved on to Irish, Scots, and Brits and realized that this is not your ordinary ethnographic museum, as in thousands of unread, dry facts.  11 men from Ireland died at The Alamo.  Half Scot, half Cherokee Jesse Chisolm established a wagon route from Kansas to Oklahoma that became the history-making, cattle-driving Chisolm Trail.  Dealey Plaza was named for two Brit Brothers who owned the Dallas Morning News.

To me the most surprising story in the entire museum involved African-American Stella Hollis. Stella began researching her family history in 1990 and learned that her great-great Grandmother, Emeline Miller, lived in the White House!  When she was 8, Emeline was given by President Andrew Jackson to his 3-year-old grandniece Mary as a christening gift.  Emeline, Mary’s “personal servant”, moved to Texas in 1855 where she earned her freedom and had 8 children.

Germans are the 4th largest ethnic group in Texas, and many towns like Fredericksburg have German names.  Born there, Frank Van der Stucken Jr. conducted the 1st American concert in Europe, led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and entertained Edvard Grieg with his compositions.

Many Hungarian Texans struggled with loyalty issues during the Civil War. They and other immigrants, especially those from Europe, didn’t know whether to join the North or the South.  This must have been true for great numbers of folks struggling to learn English and become Texans who had no background with American civil unrest yet had to take sides.  The ethnic group I had no knowledge about were the Wendish.  The Institute even asked, “Who are the Texas Wends?  Their ethics roots were in Lusatia, part of Saxony and Prussia.  600 of them landed in Galveston in 1854 after a difficult Atlantic crossing.

Polish Pola Negri was a big movie star.  She made more than 20 movies like Good and Naughty for Paramount in the 1920s.  Her last film was Walt Disney’s The Moonspinners in 1964.  Pola moved to San Antonio where she lived quietly until she died in 1987.

At a party last night Pat told me that he thought there were only 4 American cities whose histories were important to learn about when visiting–New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, and San Antonio.  Like Tejanos and Hungarian Civil War soldiers, here was something new to think about.



About roadsrus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey. View all posts by roadsrus

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