Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for March 21st, 2018

Bombs and blooms: strange connections

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Some of you have heard about the bombings in Austin over the last three weeks. This morning I turned on the local television news channel and learned that a little while earlier the bomber had blown himself up when police closed in on him in Round Rock, a large suburb bordering Austin on the north. Now investigators were apparently searching the house in the adjacent town of Pflugerville where the bomber lived. Police had thrown up a cordon to keep people from getting closer than a couple of blocks away, so the television station’s crew couldn’t approach the house. They did the best they could and showed a long shot, in which I made out a street sign at an intersection close to the bomber’s house: on the sign I read the name Wilbarger.

Wilbarger! In a 2012 post, which happened to appear during this very week in March, I presented the true and seemingly supernatural story of Josiah Wilbarger. After six years I see no harm in telling this marvelous story again, so I’ve copied it below with its original title. By further coincidence, I was already planning to go out today in quest of flowering huisache trees, which was the initial subject of the 2012 post.

UPDATE. On the website of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission I confirmed the surprising identity of the person who illustrated Indian Depredations: “T.J. Owen, better known as the author William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).”


Yesterday’s post told you about a venerable huisache tree, Acacia farnesiana, that I used to enjoy visiting and photographing, but that I found out on March 23 had recently been destroyed to make way for a new building. That tree was growing close to a creek in northeast Austin called Tannehill Branch, which continues under the adjacent street and forms the northern boundary of Bartholomew Park. The creek also nurtures half a dozen well-established huisaches growing along it. Those trees offered—and being in a park will continue to offer—some consolation for the destroyed huisache; I spent the better part of an hour taking photographs of them, including this one in which the nearest branches lean forward and in so doing create a ring of flowers surrounding the center of the tree:

This location on Tannehill Branch is close to the spot where one of the strangest events ever recorded in Texas history took place. It has nothing to do with plants or photography—the picture above has given you your daily dose of those things—but it’s such an unusual and compelling story that I’ll include it here for those of you who would like to keep reading; just be aware that you may find some of the details disturbing. The following account of what happened is from the 1890 edition of an 1888 book with a long title (as was common back then): Indian depredations in Texas : reliable accounts of battles, wars, adventures, forays, murders, massacres, etc., together with biographical sketches of many of the most noted Indian fighters and frontiersmen of Texas. The author was John Wesley Wilbarger, a brother of the Josiah Wilbarger described in the account. The Hornsby mentioned in the first sentence was Reuben Hornsby, one of the first Anglo settlers in what is now Austin; Hornsby Bend along the Colorado River near Austin’s airport was named after him.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 21, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Posted in nature photography

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