This Day in Texas History: City of Nocona Incorporates

This Day in Texas History:

City of Nocona Incorporates

July 30, 1891

On this day in 1891, the residents of Nocona voted to incorporate.

Nocona is on U.S. Highway 82 twelve miles north of Montague in north central Montague County. Settlement there began in the 1870s, when William Broaddus and D. C. Jordan moved 15,000 cattle into the region and established a ranch not far from the present townsite.

Nocona Mil & Cotton GinlIn 1887 surveyors for the Gainesville, Henrietta and Western Railway arrived and were persuaded by Jordan to extend their rail line across his land. He pledged to donate land for a townsite, and soon thereafter construction of the railroad and the town began. At first the new community was called Jordanville; but when that name was rejected, a Texas Ranger suggested the name Nocona in memory of Peta Nocona, a chief of the Comanches and husband of Cynthia Ann Parker.

In 1887 postal service began. That same year Herman J. Justin moved his boot factory to the town to take advantage of the shipping facilities. The first newspaper began weekly publication in 1889, and the town’s first bank, chartered at $50,000 opened in 1890. On July 30, 1891, residents voted to incorporate. By 1900 Nocona had a population of 900. In 1910 it had a dozen cotton-purchasing companies.

In 1919 a second leather-goods business opened, and in 1925, when Justin’s two sons moved their late father’s business to Fort Worth, Enid Justin, their sister, opened the Nocona Boot Company. At this time Nocona had 100 businesses, two banks, a high school, and twenty to thirty shallow oil wells operating nearby. By 1930 there were over 2,000 residents. More than 2,600 people lived at Nocona by the middle 1940s.

Oil-equipment companies, clothing factories, and the success of Nocona Boots contributed to a growing economy. By the 1960s Nocona had 3,375 residents and 147 businesses. In the late 1980s it had 3,000 people and 100 businesses. In 1990 the population was 2,870. The population grew to 3,198 in 2000.

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This Day in Texas History: Eisenhower Signs Bill Creating NASA

This Day in Texas History:

Eisenhower Signs Bill Creating NASA

July 29, 1958

Dwight D. EisenhowerOn this day in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, born in Denison, Texas, signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The national commitment to a broad program of space exploration, including manned space flight, came in response to the Soviet Union‘s successful space launches, begun in 1957. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set as a national goal the achievement of a manned landing on the moon by the end of the decade. NASA began to reorganize and increase its space establishments.



Central to the agency’s new future was the construction of a manned-space-development aggregation, including facilities in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. NASA also elected to build a new space-management, crew-training, and flight-control center on Clear Lake in southeastern Harris County, Texas, thanks to the efforts of Texas Congressman Albert Thomas.

The Manned Space Center opened in 1963 and was officially renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center ten years later.

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This Day in Texas History: Civil Rights Activist Denied Vote in Harris County

This Day in Texas History:

Civil Rights Activist Denied Vote in Harris County

July 27, 1940

On this day in 1940, civil-rights activist Lonnie E. Smith attempted to vote in the Democratic primary in Harris County.

Lonnie E. SmithSmith, an African-American dentist born in Yoakum in 1901, was denied a ballot under the white primary rules of the time. With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (including the future United States Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall), Smith filed suit in federal district court seeking redress for the denial of his rights under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth amendments by the precinct election judge.

Following an unfavorable ruling in the district court, Smith’s attorneys lodged appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court. The court’s 1944 decision in Smith v. Allwright reversed the prior decisions against Smith by a margin of eight to one.

Since that time, all eligible Texans have had the right to vote in the primary election of their choice. Smith later served as a Democratic precinct committeeman and an NAACP chapter president. He died in 1971.

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This Day in Texas History: Sweethearts of the Cattle Trail Marry

This Day in Texas History:

Sweethearts of the Cattle Trail Marry

July 26, 1870

On this day in 1870, rancher Charles Goodnight married his sweetheart Mary Ann (Molly) Dyer. The two first met at Fort Belknap about 1864.

Goodnight, a veteran cattleman, helped blaze the Goodnight-Loving Trail in 1866. His wife Molly, orphaned in the 1850s, had worked as a schoolteacher to support her younger brothers. After their wedding, the couple settled on a ranch in Colorado for a few years before moving to the Palo Duro Canyon to help establish the JA Ranch.

JA Ranch ChuckwagonCharles managed the ranch, trailed cattle, and continued to upgrade the herds while Molly made a home on the solitary plains near the canyon. Her husband invented a two-horned sidesaddle so that she could more easily ride on the ranch. Though the couple had no children of their own, she became the “Mother of the Panhandle” to countless ranch hands. Her care for orphaned buffaloes encouraged her husband to establish a domestic buffalo herd.

In later years the ranching couple supported numerous schools, churches, and other organizations, and they established Goodnight College in 1898. Goodnight is credited with inventing the chuckwagon.

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This Day in Texas History: Galveston’s Ashton Villa Restored

This Day in Texas History:

Galveston’s Ashton Villa Restored

July 25, 1974

On this day in 1974, the restored Ashton Villa, one of the first brick structures in Texas, was opened to the public.

Ashton VillaThe historic Galveston home was built in 1859 by James Moreau Brown, who by the late 1850s had developed the largest hardware store west of the Mississippi. Brown purchased four lots at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Twenty-fourth Street in 1859. He designed the building and employed slave labor and skilled European craftsmen.

His wife, née Rebecca Ashton Stoddart, named the new family residence Ashton Villa in memory of one of her ancestors, Lt. Isaac Ashton, a Revolutionary War hero. The imposing three-story home is in the Victorian Italianate style, distinguished by deep eaves with carved supporting brackets.

The home is administered by the Galveston Historical Foundation and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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This Day in Texas History: Town of Kyle Established

This Day in Texas History:

Town of Kyle Established

July 24, 1880

On this day in 1880, the town of Kyle was established when David E. Moore and Fergus Kyle (for whom the town was named) deeded 200 acres for a townsite to the International-Great Northern Railroad.

Kyle, TexasKyle is on Interstate Highway 35 eight miles north of San Marcos and twenty miles south of Austin in northeastern Hays County. The new town drew residents and businesses from Mountain City, three miles west, and Blanco, some forty miles west. Tom Martin operated the first business in Kyle.

The community’s population exceeded 500 by 1882 but later declined. Kyle was incorporated in 1928 as a general-law city with a mayor and five council members. In 1937 Mary Kyle Hartson, a seventy-two-year-old great-grandmother and the daughter of Fergus Kyle, was elected mayor by a write-in vote; her victory attracted national attention, including a feature story in Life magazine which proclaimed her the only woman mayor in Texas.

In the early 1940s Kyle was noted as the only Texas town with an all-woman government. In the year 2000 Kyle contained some 200 businesses and 5,314 inhabitants.

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This Day in Texas History: Future Film Actress Born in Houston

This Day in Texas History:

Future Film Actress Born in Houston

July 23, 1895

On this day in 1895, Florence Arto was born in Houston.

Florence VidorShe appeared in Texas filmmaker King Vidor’s first two-reel film, In Tow, as well as in a documentary on the sugar industry. In 1915 she and Vidor were married and traveled to California in hopes of employment in the expanding film industry.

A mature and elegant presence, Florence Vidor performed in fifty-nine feature films, often cast in upper-class or aristocratic roles. She and Vidor were divorced in 1924; violinist Jascha Heifetz became her second husband in 1928. Florence made her last film in 1929 and died in 1977.


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This Day in Texas History: Red Adair is Born

This Day in Texas History:

Red Adair is Born

June 18, 1915

Red AdairPaul Neal “Red” Adair, the Texas oil well firefighter, was born on June 18, 1915, in Houston, Texas, to Charles and Mary Adair. He had four brothers and three sisters. Red grew up in the Houston Heights and went to school at Harvard Elementary, Hogg Junior High, and Reagan High School, where he was an all-city halfback for the football team when he was in the ninth grade. Though Red hoped to go to college, he had to drop out of high school to help support his family in 1930 as the Great Depression caused his father to close down his blacksmith shop. Red held many types of jobs after dropping out of high school, including a short showing as a semi-professional boxer. In 1936 he went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 1938 Red obtained his first job working with oil when he joined the Otis Pressure Control Company. He worked in the oil fields of Texas and neighboring states until he was drafted into the US Army in 1945, where he served with the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. While in the Army, Red learned about controlling explosions and fires. He was with the 139th disposing bombs in Japan until the spring of 1946.

When Red returned to Houston after serving his time in the Army, he was hired by Myron Kinley of the M. M. Kinley Company, one of the innovators for oil well blowouts and fire control. Red worked for Kinley for fourteen years helping put out oil well fires and capping oil blowouts. In 1959 he resigned from M. M. Kinley and formed his own company, The Red Adair Company, Inc. Through the techniques he learned from Kinley and disposing bombs for the army, Red was able to develop many tools and strategies to control oil well and natural gas well blowouts and fires. The Red Adair Company became a world-renowned name for fighting oil well fires. Red put out fires both inland and offshore all around the world. On average, the company put out forty-two fires every year.

By 1961 Red became famous in oil fields around the world. He had put out the offshore CATCO oil fire in 1959 and many other fires both inland and offshore. In November1961 a Phillip’s Petroleum gas well in Algeria had a blowout. The flames from the blowout fire reached heights of over 700 feet and burned 550 million cubic feet of gas per day. The flames were so high, astronaut John Glenn reported seeing the fire from space. The fire came to be known as the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter.

Red made it to the fire in late November of 1961. He spent months preparing to put out the flame and cap the well. Red had enormous equipment built on-site to handle the pillar of fire. Since the fire was in the Sahara Desert, water had to be pumped from wells and stored in three reservoirs, each ten feet deep and the size of a football field. Red had several bulldozers customized with special housing units and fitted with hooks to pull away debris. After all preparations had been made, men and equipment were soaked with water constantly as they carefully approached the fire in their famous red coveralls and helmets. Nitroglycerine was then placed near the base of the fire. When the nitroglycerine was ignited, the explosion sucked the oxygen from the air and drowned out the fire. Red had been using this technique for years, and had learned a great deal about it from Myron Kinley. Once the fire was blown out, Red’s team removed the wellhead and capped the well on May 28, 1962, six months after it had ignited.

Red Adair was already known in oil and gas fields around the world, but blowing out the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter made him an icon. He put out several more notable fires in his career including an offshore rig in Louisiana in 1970 and a 1977 blowout in the North Sea. In 1988 a huge explosion at the Piper Alpha Rig off the coast of Scotland brought Red even more renown. Using the ship he helped design, the Tharos, Red approached what was left of the offshore rig and used the ship’s unique equipment to put out fires and cap the wells. At seventy-three, Red was no longer able to jump from a ship to an oil rig, so he had two of his men climb onto what was left of Piper Alpha to clear debris. Once most of the debris was cleared, the men began to put out the fires using nitroglycerine and the ocean water. On some days the wind would blow in just the right direction and help put the water right where it needed to be. On other days the seventy mile-per-hour wind worked against them. Eventually Red and his team were able to put out the fires and cap the wells.

The Piper Alpha blaze brought Red in the public eye once again. Red continued to put out fires around the world, and in 1991, he helped put out many oil fires in Kuwait. At the closing of the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s armies retreated from Kuwait igniting many oil wells in order to keep them out of the hands of the Kuwaitis and Americans. Red was hired to put out the flames. More than one hundred wells were ignited, and putting them out was estimated to take three to five years. Red extinguished 117 burning wells in nine months.

On top of working in the field as much as he could, Red also designed and developed many different types of firefighting equipment. At the age of nineteen he had designed a lever that could haul coal from railroad cars. His equipment was so innovative, that he formed a separate company, The Red Adair Service and Marine Company, in 1972 to sell firefighting equipment to others in the industry. Red liked to rig bulldozers with special fittings to keep heat out. He would also fix long beams on the bulldozers and use those beams to put nitroglycerine into a blaze or even use those beams like a fixed crane to bring in heavy materials. One of Red’s most famous designs was the semi-submersible firefighting vessel, used to fight offshore oil well fires. Red designed several ships for oil companies around the world, many of which are still in use today.

Red’s work brought him many awards. He received the Walton Clark Medal Citation from the Franklin Institute. The city of Houston presented Red with both the Outstanding Houstonian Award and the Houston Distinguished Sales and Citizenship Award. After his popularity skyrocketed when he put out the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter, a film was loosely based on Red’s life. The movie Hellfighters, starring John Wayne, was released in 1968. Red served as a technical advisor. Although much of his fame came from his reputation as a daredevil, Red was also known to be a stickler when it came to safety. Red always boasted that none of his men had ever been killed or seriously injured while working for him.

In 1993 Red Adair finally retired and sold the Red Adair Company. He then started Adair Enterprises as a consulting company that helped other firefighters. Many of Red’s firefighters went on to form their own companies after working for him. Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews broke away from The Red Adair Company in 1978 to form their own firefighting company. They eventually merged with another group of firefighters that had once worked for Red. Although he retired from actual firefighting and fieldwork in 1993, Red stayed active in the firefighting business until he died at the age of eighty-nine on August 7, 2004, in the city of Houston. He was survived by his wife Kemmie and a son and daughter.

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Today’s Notable Texan – Cyd Charisse

Today’s Notable Texan – Cyd Charisse
(Texas State Historical Association)

Tula Ellice Finklea (better known as Cyd Charisse), dancer and actress, was born on March 8, 1922, in Amarillo, Texas, to Lela (Norwood) and Ernest Enos Finklea, Sr., owner of a jewelry store.

Cyd CharisseShe grew up at the family’s 1616 Tyler Street home, receiving her later stage name from her younger brother who could not pronounce ‘sis’ and called her ‘Sid.’ As a frail six-year-old, she began dancing lessons to help her overcome a slight case of polio. Her father took an interest in Cyd’s developing ballet talent, and when she was fourteen, on the advice of her dance instructor, he sent her to a professional school in California. Soon after, she was touring with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Company under faux Russian names, including Felia Sidorova. Upon hearing of her father’s failing health, she returned to Texas to be with him until his death. She then joined back up with the company in Los Angeles and began training with Nico Charisse, a French ballet instructor she had met when she was twelve.

While on a European tour that was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II, Nico, age thirty-two, met up with Cyd and asked her to go with him to Paris. The couple spontaneously wed in France on August 12, 1939. Cyd attracted notoriety in conservative Amarillo when she brought her older husband home to visit. Her mother, upon receiving the news, insisted the couple remarry in a “proper ceremony” in New Mexico. The newlyweds then moved to Hollywood, where they taught dance at Nico’s school. As a favor to friends who choreographed for movies, Cyd began appearing in small films, including Mission to Moscow (1943) and Something to Shout About (1943), using the name Lily Norwood. She initially had little interest in movies, however, as her goal was to become a prima ballerina. Because of this aspiration, she had not planned on getting married as young as she did and attributed her sudden marriage to the loss of her father. Cyd’s life was further changed when she and Nico had a son, Nico (Nicky) Charisse, Jr., in 1942. Realizing she would not be able to tour easily with a child, she began to pursue a career in film, which would still offer her the opportunity to dance.

By 1946, due to her previous connections in the industry, Cyd had signed a contract with MGM Pictures for $150 a week and began taking vocal lessons to rid her of her Texas twang. Upon the suggestion of producer Arthur Freed, she adopted the stage name of “Cyd Charisse,” changing the spelling of Sid to Cyd. She first received roles in the period’s popular movie musicals, including Harvey Girls (1946) with Judy Garland and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), in which she found herself pirouetting around future dance partner Fred Astaire. By 1947 her marriage had grown bitter and she and Nico divorced. This was her chance to partake in the dating scene she had missed out on as a teenager. Garnering the attention of famous men, she ultimately found herself in serious relationships with both billionaire Howard Hughes, Jr., and singer Tony Martin. Martin won out, and the couple married on May 9, 1948, in Santa Barbara. That same year, she had disappointingly lost a role alongside Fred Astaire in Easter Parade(1948) due to an injured knee and was replaced by fellow Texas dancer Ann Miller. She recuperated in time to take a part in The Kissing Bandit (1948) with Frank Sinatra, and did a memorable dance number with Miller and Ricardo Montalban, but the film itself was unsuccessful. Then in 1950, she made the decision to pass on a lead role with Gene Kelly in the Academy Award-winning An American in Paris after discovering she was expecting a baby with Martin.

Finally in 1952 Cyd, at thirty-years-old, got another chance through a star-making part in Singin’ in the Rain. Her one dance scene, “The Broadway Melody Ballet,” had her playing both a vamp seductress and an innocent bride to Gene Kelly. She followed this with a starring role in The Band Wagon (1953) with Astaire. Their memorable final dance number “The Girl Hunt Ballet,” which found Charisse once again vamping it up, this time for Astaire’s private-eye character, has gone down as one of the most popular dances in the history of film. Cyd continued to partner with the two dancing greats in Brigadoon (1954) and It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) with Kelly and Silk Stockings (1957) with Astaire. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as leading actress in Silk Stockings.

After the movie musical genre began to decline in the late 1950s, she continued her career in smaller films, including Twilight for the Gods (1958) with Rock Hudson, Party Girl (1958) with Robert Taylor, and Something’s Got to Give (1962), Marilyn Monroe’s last, unfinished film. Throughout the rest of her career, she made frequent appearances on television shows and commercials and went on a nightclub tour with husband Tony Martin. Later, she made her own exercise video for active seniors, worked with a chemist to create a product, Arctic Spray, to help with her mother’s arthritis, and made a cameo in Janet Jackson’s music video for the song “Alright” (1990). She always continued her ballet training, and in 1992, at the age of seventy, Cyd made her Broadway debut playing an aging ballerina in Grand Hotel, a musical directed and choreographed by Texas native Tommy Tune. In her eighties, she appeared in documentaries and specials chronicling old Hollywood.

Cyd was best-known for her dancing. Self-admittedly, she was never much of a singer or an actress, as most of her songs were dubbed and she always strived to improve her acting. She was, however, uniquely successful in a competitive field of tap-dancing actresses due to her background in traditional Russian ballet. This afforded her opportunities that she treasured. When asked which partner she preferred, Astaire or Kelly, she always said that her husband could tell which one she had been dancing with, noting in a New York Times interview, “If I was black and blue, it was Gene. And if it was Fred, I didn’t have a scratch.” She would always add, “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’re both delicious.” Astaire had similar kind words for her in his memoirSteps in Time (1959), calling her “beautiful dynamite” and saying, “That Cyd! When you’ve danced with her you stay danced with.”

With sixty-five years in show business and a dance career that spanned even longer, Cyd received many awards over the years for her achievements. Some of the most notable include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, induction into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in Austin in 2002, and a National Medal of Arts presented by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony in 2006. She also received the first Nijinsky Award from Princess Caroline in Monaco for her lifetime contributions to dance in 2000. In 2001 Cyd gained attention for one of her most famous assets, her long legs, which Guinness World Records conferred the title of “Most Valuable Legs.” This was based off of reports that an insurance policy had been taken out on them for anywhere from $1 to $5 million dollars in 1952, but the raven-haired actress often laughed this off as an exaggerated sum created for publicity.

On June 16, 2008, Cyd was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack. She died the following day on June 17, 2008, at the age of eighty-six, and was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. She was survived by her husband of just over sixty years, Tony Martin, and her two sons. In the joint biography she and Tony published in 1976 entitled, The Two of Us, Cyd frequently cited her Texas heritage as having had a big influence on her life. She was very happy to speak with an Austin American–Statesman reporter in 2002, reminding him, “Once a Texan always a Texan.”

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This Day in Texas History: Race Riot Erupts in Beaumont

This Day in Texas History:

Race Riot Erupts in Beaumont

June 15, 1943

Beaumont Race Riot of 1943On this day in 1943, whites and blacks clashed in Beaumont after workers at a local shipyard learned that a white woman had accused a black man of raping her. On the evening of June 15 more than 2,000 workers, plus perhaps another 1,000 interested bystanders, marched toward City Hall.

Even though the woman could not identify the suspect among the blacks held in the city jail, the workers dispersed into small bands and proceeded to terrorize black neighborhoods in central and north Beaumont. Many blacks were assaulted, several businesses were pillaged, a number of buildings were burned, and more than 100 homes were ransacked.

Acting Texas governor A. M. Aikin, Jr., placed Beaumont under martial law. More than 200 people were arrested, fifty were injured, and two–one black and one white–were killed. Another black man died later of injuries received during the riot.

On June 20 of that same year, a similar riot exploded in Detroit, lasting three days.  34 people were killed, of which 25 were black.  Approximately 600 were injured.

Twenty-nine of those arrested were turned over to civil authorities on charges of assault and battery, unlawful assembly, and arson. The remainder were released, mostly because of lack of evidence.

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