Charles Everett Mills, born 1876 (the year of the Great Centennial) is perhaps the most widely-famed native son of Luna City, is responsible for at least three historical markers in the vicinity of his birthplace, and the small farm/ranch which provided a living for his parents, in the decades following the Civil War. He was the youngest child of James Bowie Mills, and his wife, Jane Everett: James Bowie Mills was the son of an old Texas family, reputed to be one of Stephen Austin’s original 300. Jane Everett was of a similarly old and respectable lineage, settling in South Texas shortly after the Civil War. At the time of Charles’ birth, James and Jane were the parents of three daughters, attractive and intelligent girls  familiarly known as the Three Graces: Mary Faith, Elizabeth Hope, and Annabelle Charity.

James B. Mills’ property lay somewhat to the south of Luna City, and under his management prospered sufficiently to enable James and Jane to educate their son and three daughters at private academies in San Antonio during the 1880s. Charles, as the only son was much-treasured by his parents and sisters; it would not be too much to say that he was spoiled rotten. The youthful Charley Mills was tall, athletic, handsome and charming, and appeared bound for every success in the world, the pride of his parents and community. Alas, this was not to be; Charley had a taste for fast women, easy living, and not to put too fine a point on it, a dissolute and criminal life-style. This did not become immediately obvious; to the end of their respective lives, his parents defended him as a good son and an upright citizen, claiming that Charley was the innocent victim of jealousy and slander.

At the age of 22, Charley was supposedly attending a business college in Topeka, Kansas. As it turned out, he was actually a member of the Doolin-Dalton ‘Wild Bunch’ Gang, and then of a relatively obscure group of professional robbers known as the ‘Bent Cactus Gang’ for a mocking scrawl left at the site of various robberies, the most famous of which was that of a Santa Fe train west of Cimarron, which netted several thousand dollars worth of silver and gold, both coin and ingots. A quantity of this loot was never recovered, leading to apocryphal stories of Old Charley’s Treasure being secreted somewhere around Mills Farm early in the 20th century. Charley, whose sense of self-preservation became sufficiently acute to override his affection for making an easy living through train, bank and store robberies, prudently severed his association with the Wild Bunch and the Bent Cactus Gang by mid-decade, and so escaped the various violent ends dealt out by law enforcement to his former associates. Doubtless he reasoned that a living from immoral earnings might possibly be a little safer. More »

Oh, what is there to say about Mills Farm, the destination event-venue, country-themed retail emporium, petting zoo, specimen garden, and country amusement park just to the south of Luna City which has not been said a thousand times already in expensive full-page advertisements in glossy lifestyle and travel magazines, or in television spots that are enticing mini-movies all crammed into sixty seconds? Because Mills Farm is owned and run by a large corporation who also own and run many similar properties – all tailored to local idiom and conditions – star-scattered across the United States and Europe, the money and expertise is most definitely there.

Nothing shows of this, of course, with regard to Mills Farm. It’s all a carefully crafted down-home Texas experience, down to the cherubic and beaming countenance of Mills Farm’s official greeter, Old Charley Mills himself, resplendent in immaculate overalls and calico shirt, with a carefully ragged straw hat on the back of his head, presiding over the entrance and occasionally throwing down a pitchfork of hay into the calf enclosure, or riding around seated on a carefully restored small-front Farmall F-20 tractor. Mills Farm is all about the theater.

There is a theater, by the way – an open-air amphitheater, with a series of expertly graded, terraced and grass-grown slopes, where the audience can spread out picnic blankets or folding chairs. There is also a carefully quaintified old-fashioned style dance hall for smaller, more intimate gatherings and dances. The Mills farmstead – a turn of the last century ginger-bread cottage painted white and adorned all the way around with covered screen-porches – is a bed and breakfast. It is not the original Mills farmhouse; oh, dear no – that was an unsavory shack which burned to the ground in 1927, possibly by the last private owner of Mills Farm for the insurance money. This present building was moved with great care from the lot in Beeville where it had originally been situated. Other, smaller cottages on the property are also available for overnight stays.

Most of the other structures at Mills Farm have also been brought in, or reconstructed to serve the various purposes. They host weddings, corporate retreats, concerts and what-have-you; but the traveling public is always encouraged to drop in for a brief visit to the general store, to wander in a herb garden laid out in the form of an acre-sized Texas flag and then to restore themselves with a meal at the Mills Farm Country Restaurant; part of the dining area is in a wide screened porch above a scenic bend in the river, with a grove of noble oak trees and a seasonal wild-flower meadow beyond. Every aspect pleases – and no expense has been spared in making and keeping it so.

Mills Farm is one of the largest single employers in the area. Since it opened, some thirty years ago, two generations of Luna City teenagers have cut their teeth in the job market by working there in the summer – waiting tables, working the cash register in the general store, or helping set up for events. The Gonzales and Gonzalez family enterprises are also important cogs in the machinery of Mills Farm, for facility-maintenance and grounds-keeping, mainly, although Cousin Teodoro “Teddy” Gonzalez also plays an extremely vital role in the grand theater of Mills Farm.

Teddy Gonzalez was raised in Chicago after his father – Jaime Gonzalez’s younger brother Alfredo – went to work in Henry Ford’s River Run aircraft plant during World War II and married an Anglo girl from Minnesota. He didn’t come back to Luna City until he retired and got tired of shoveling show in the winter. Teddy sports a snowy white Santa Claus beard, and when he forgets, he sounds more like a Minnesotan when he speaks, but mainly, all he has to say is, ‘Howdy, partner – welcome to Mills Farm!’ or ‘Bye, folks – y’all come back here right soon, you hear?’ ”

Yes, Cousin Teodoro plays Old Charley Mills: he and his wife live in one of the staff cottages on the grounds, so that he is always on hand. It’s an easy job for him, though – the general manager, Benny Cordova takes care of all the heavy lifting. Benny Cordova is mildly renowned for being the only local Hispanic employee not related in any way to the Gonzaleses or Gonzalezes. He is, in fact, a foreigner from Beeville, and has only a vague notion of the true history of the real Old Charley Mills; reprobate, bootlegger, drunkard, bigamist and all-around blot on the civic escutcheon.

Only a few of the oldest inhabitants of Luna City have any first-hand recollection of Old Charley Mills: Miss Letty McAllister, Dr. Wyler, and perhaps one or two others. Charley Mills was in his final disgraceful decade of life when they were children; he was the sort of character whom small children were usually warned against by their mothers, so vivid memories of his malign and drunken presence persisted. An accounting of his criminal and antisocial deeds take up a full chapter of A Brief History of Luna City, Texas, and are memorialized by the historical marker in Town Square at the foot of the tree from which he was nearly lynched in  1926 by long-suffering and wholly exasperated citizens. Upon his death, during the depths of the Depression – from natural old age, much to the surprise of the county coroner and the Luna City police department, and the disappointment of any  number of his present and former wives – the property comprising the farm fell even more into disrepair. The surviving wives, assorted Mills family heirs and associates, and the even more numerous creditors fought over it like the gingham dog and calico cat for the next thirty years, until there was nothing left but a collection of ragged scraps and forty acres of derelict farmland. The corporation which now runs the revived Mills Farm purchased it from the last heir left standing in the 1970s, and dedicated another decade to rebuilding it to their vision. Now and again, the corporate managers give a thought to expanding the attractions in the direction of Luna City … but then someone reminds them of the Charley Mills file in the offices of the Luna City Police Department, and soberer judgement reins in such plans. For now, anyway.

 

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This will be available November 20th, or thereabouts, in print and as an eBook!

The little town of Luna City is not a city at all, as most people understand these things. It is a small Texas town grown from a single stone house built by an immigrant Bohemian stone-mason in 1857, at a place where an old road between San Antonio, Beeville, and points south forded a shallow stretch of river. The railway was supposed to come through where Luna City was planned to be – and the city fathers confidently expected it to become the county seat. Alas, when Dr. Stephen Wyler’s aunt Bessie eloped with a smooth-talking engineer on the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, her father – who owned much of the land in the district – was furious. The railway, he stormed, was an invitation to vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of young women and girls – and so he saw that it never came to Luna City; although there had been a generous space allotted in early plans of Luna City for the usual magnificent Beaux Arts-style county courthouse in the square at the center of town. That expectation also came to naught; the county seat stayed in Karnesville, and since then, Luna City has made very little effort to attract the casual tourist.

Travelers on the farm-to-market road going north or south will pass by the Tip-Top Ice House, Grocery and Gas, perhaps note the four-square house of limestone blocks owned by the last descendant of Arthur Wells McAllister – the surveyor who first drew up the plat of Luna City in 1876, and drive on. They might also note the metal towers, ladders and chutes of Bodie Feed & Seed Supply, looming on the distant horizon – but definitely will miss the disintegrating sign advertising the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm. Anyone looking for that establishment already knows where it is … and that clothing there is optional. Jess Abernathy, who does the finances for Sefton and Judy Grant has mentioned to them now and again, that they ought to get a new sign or have the old one repainted and repaired, but Sefton and Judy aren’t into the realities of advertising and commerce in this … or really, any age. This exasperates Jess, but then she is the fifth generation of a Luna family with commerce bred into their bones and blood; her father and grandfather run Abernathy Hardware, housed for all this century, every decade of the previous and fifteen years of the one before that in a looming Victorian commercial building on Town Square with a cornice which looks as if it is about to topple over onto the sidewalk below.

Sefton and Judy arrived sometime in the summer of 1968 in a colorful cavalcade of carefree spirits intending to establish a communal farm; forty-five years later, they are the only members of it who remain. Odd as it may seem at first or even second glance, they are valued members of the community. They set up in Town Square every other Saturday morning, under the biggest of the oak trees, and sell produce – which are sometimes a slow-seller, because in Luna City, most residents have a vegetable garden themselves – but also eggs, honey, home-made goat-milk cheeses, herbs, and hand-made soap. The Grant’s vegetable patch has the advantage of deep and rich soil on the bank of the river, and generous applications of well-cured compost seasoned with goat-manure. A single disintegrating Airstream trailer is still parked there in the field which is supposed to be the campground, a relic of the past. Sometimes a relatively broke or undiscriminating traveler rents it for a couple of days or weeks; the Englishman who manages the Luna City Café and Coffee lives there now. Only a few residents of Luna City refer scornfully to the Grant place as Hippie Hollow. Mrs. Sook Walcott is one of these; if Jess Abernathy has commerce in her bones and blood, Sook Walcott has all that, tempered with the acid of pure acquisitive capitalism. The Grants are liked, and Sook Walcott is not … more about that, later.

The tea room and thrift shop housed in the front room of the old McAllister house is open only two days a week, which discourages casual visitors, but not anyone who knows Miss Leticia McAllister; the last woman in this part of the world who always wears a hat and gloves when she leaves the house, not just for early Sunday services at the Luna City First Methodist Church. The formidable Leticia McAllister – known as Miss Letty, even during those decades when she taught first grade in the Luna City Elementary school – is notoriously impatient, especially of anything reputed to be humorous. On the occasion of the centenary of Luna City, Miss Letty and her older brother, Doctor Douglas McAllister (the doctorate was in history, which he taught at a private university in San Antonio) compiled a commemorative volume of local history, gleaned from the memories of the oldest residents; scandals, shenanigans both political and sexual, the last gunfight in Luna City (which happened in front of the Luna Café and Coffee) old feuds and new, controversies over every imaginable small-town issue – it’s all there in A Brief History of Luna City, Texas, published privately in San Antonio, 1976, price $18.25 plus sales tax. The Luna Café & Coffee still has a small and dusty stack of them behind the cash register counter – although the manager/chef at the Luna Café & Coffee has no idea of what they are or what to do with them. Where he comes from, a hundred years is practically yesterday. Miss Letty’s erratically-open tea room also has a couple of boxes in inventory. Dr. McAllister, whose puckish sense of humor was not appreciated by his sister, was dissuaded from titling it A Hundred Years of Lunacy in South Texas on the very fair grounds that other places possessed a history every bit as scandalous, and that it would somehow encourage local residents to be called Lunatics, rather than Luna-ites … and that simply would not do at all.

Luna City, you will gather from this short introduction, does not precisely discourage visitors, but neither does it welcome them effusively. Luna-ites prefer to take a quiet measure of such visitors who do venture into the heart of downtown, and treat them with exquisite Texas courtesy. Those who choose to remain longer than a quiet stroll around the square or stop for a lunch at the Luna Café & Coffee – never doubt their welcome. And if they fall under the spell, and stay, within four or five years, they are as established and respected as any of the original Luna-ite families … McAllisters, Gonzalez-with-a-z and Gonzales-with-an-s, Abernathy-who runs-the-hardware-store, Wyler-of-the-Lazy-W-Ranch, the Bodies of the feed mill and all the rest. Luna-ites have no urge or need to disdain relative newcomers. They know exactly who they are, and do not need proving it to anyone.

I have added a new page – a directory of Luna City residents, or past residents! Not quite a cast of thousands, but dozens, maybe. Those deceased are noted with an asterisk, like so – *.