The land upon which the small town of Luna City was formally established was originally part of a Spanish land grant to Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales) and his sons Augusto (the eldest and eventual heir) and Tomas. Correct spelling of the family name is a matter of uncertainty. Handwriting on the original records of the grant is difficult to read, and within a generation or two Don Diego Manuel’s descendants were spelling their surname with either an ‘s’ or a ‘z’ interchangeably. The grant, consisting of a league and a labor of land (that is about four and a half thousand acres) was officially recorded in 1769, although there is evidence for the family to have established a residence and begun raising stock in the area from the 1720s on.

The first Don Diego Manuel was a trusted officer in his youth, serving under the command of of Jose de Escandon, the first governor of Nueva Santander, a colony stretching along the Gulf Coast between Tampico, Mexico and into present-day Texas as far as the San Antonio. The Gonzalez/Gonzales family originated in Gijon, Cantabria; and connected to the Escandon family through social and kinship networks. The Gonzalez/Gonzales family name is an alternate spelling of Gonzaga; the Gonzalez/Gonzales of Gijon are thought by historians to be descended from the notorious Cardinal Pedro Gonzaga – a dissolute but able administrator, and ally of the equally notorious Borgia family two centuries previously.

In any case, the grant – known in most records as Rincon de los Robles, or Oak Corner – continued in it’s original incarnation and acreage for a century after being officially recorded. Taking its’ name from a grove of particularly fine oak trees, many of which still stand throughout Luna City, the Gonzalez/Gonzales clan ran cattle, horses, sheep and goats on various tracts, establishing several small herding camps for their employees. One such camp was excavated in the early 1970s just inside the present-day main gate of the Wyler Lazy W Exotic Game Ranch; a two-room adobe structure, half bunk-house and half-stables. Although of interest to social historians, nothing much besides a few coins, pottery shards and bottle fragments was found in the course of the excavation. A historical marker was placed on the site in 1975, as this is the oldest known permanent building of any kind in or near Luna City.

Meanwhile, location of the main residence for the Gonzalez/Gonzales clan is uncertain, although certain outbuildings on the present-day ranch headquarters of Rincon de los Robles hint at a very early date of construction.  The Gonzalez/Gonzales family prospered in a mild way; both Augusto and Tomas are recorded as having fathered eighteen and twenty-three children, respectively, through several marriages or other, less official arrangements. Most of these offspring are known to have lived to adulthood, although due to a rather casual attitude to record-keeping, only the main line of descent from oldest son, to oldest son can be ascertained with precision. An inclination towards very large families, with frequent use of the same names, marriage within the extended clan and informal adoption over three centuries complicates any attempt to make sense of the Gonzalez/Gonzales family tree. The majority of Augusto and Tomas’ descendants still live in and around Luna City.

Proud Tejano patriots during the Texas War for Independence, at least three members of the Gonzalez/Gonzales clan of Rincon de los Robles on the San Antonio River served with Captain Juan Sequin during Sam Houston’s retreat into east Texas in 1836 and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. Alas, having served with valor in the war did not spare local Tejanos from later suspicion and political disenfranchisement on the part of the mainly Anglo establishment. Although having no interest in and taking little part in the Civil War, a mere fifteen years later, the hardships brought about by that war and the collapse of the Confederacy, took a toll on Rincon de los Robles. In 1867, a large portion of the grant remaining were sold for hard cash by Don Anselmo Gonzalez, (in direct line the great-great-great grandson of Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales) to Captain Herbert Kling Wyler, CSA. During the War, Captain Wyler (a native of Kentucky) had been posted to Texas, where he was involved in moving Confederate cotton to Brownsville and thence over the border to the Mexican port of Baghdad, from where it was shipped to Europe. Captain Wyler, unlike many of his Confederate compatriots, emerged prosperous from the conflict, and turned his considerable energies into building up his own ranch property.

The infusion of cash into the much-diminished Rincon de los Robles Ranch was not wasted on Don Anselmo, or on his son, Don Antonio, who inherited the diminished Rincon de los Robles in his turn and turned his attention to breeding and raising prize-winning merino sheep and angora goats. It should be noted that Don Anselmo had cannily held on to the lushest pasturage adjoining the river and most of the oak woods which gave the ranch its name.  Don Antonio, who trained originally in law, eventually became one of Texas’ leading authorities on the parasites particular to angora goats. It is Don Antonio who fought the last officially recorded duel on the streets of Luna City. A historical marker on Town Square marks the place.

In 1884-5, Captain Wyler developed an interest in making a third fortune, upon realizing that the best route for a proposed railway connecting San Antonio with Aransas Pass lay across a portion of his vast properties in Karnes County. He proposed forming a corporation to establish a model town at the point where the old road between San Antonio and the coast – to Don Antonio, still the second-largest landowner in the district.  Don Antonio, no fool, and having little reason to trust Captain Wyler (who had a long-established reputation as a man with very few scruples and great determination) agreed – made his contribution to the corporation with a few acres on the northern border of Rincon de los Robles for the town site rather than his bank balance. He made it a condition that as few of the standing oaks be felled as possible. Captain Wyler attracted the interest and investment of other parties, before abruptly withdrawing support for the railway, with half the town plots already sold and construction completed, when his adored younger daughter Bessie suddenly eloped with a handsome train engineer. It is considered likely that out of all the investors in the original Luna City, only Don Antonio escaped more or less financially undamaged from the debacle.

The Rincon de los Robles grant exists to this day, as a ranch under the management of Don Antonio’s son, Don Jaimie. His granddaughter, Mindy Gonzalez-Ramirez, is currently conducting research on the existing ranch headquarters buildings, to determine which, if any of them, pre-date the mid-19th century.

 

23. March 2017 · Comments Off on A Map of Luna City & Environs · Categories: Luna City Info Dump, Places in Luna

At last, I applied myself to the computer, and all the little things that I had dropped in passing about where things were in Luna City — and came up with a map! Yes – this map will be a part of Luna City IV! Behold!

A Map of Luna City and Environs (Not to scale)

A Map of Luna City and Environs (Not to scale)

19. January 2017 · Comments Off on The Present Home of the Luna City Volunteer Fire Department · Categories: Luna City Info Dump, Places in Luna
A View of the LCVFD Building, which will feature in Book 4 of the Luna City Chronicles

A View of the LCVFD Building, which will feature in Book 4 of the Luna City Chronicles

28. August 2016 · Comments Off on The Courthouse That Never Was · Categories: Places in Luna
A view of the courthouse designed for Town Square by Arthur Wells McAllister

A view of the courthouse designed for Town Square by Arthur Wells McAllister

03. August 2016 · Comments Off on A Map of Historic Town Square, Luna City · Categories: Places in Luna

(Not drawn to scale, nor including all facilities – but to give an idea of the general lay-out of Town Square and of the location of some of the shops and establishments surrounding Town Square.)

Map of Luna City - Town Square

21. March 2016 · Comments Off on The Great Bank Robbery of 1922 · Categories: Luna City Info Dump, Places in Luna

There are three official historical markers in Town Square, much cherished by local citizens. The most noted is the one marking the site where Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched by infuriated citizens, which action was forestalled by the timely intervention of somewhat less-infuriated but more clear-thinking individuals, who included Doc Wyler’s father, Albert Wyler and his younger brother Thomas Wyler, the Reverend Calvin Rowbottom, then senior minister of the Luna City First Methodist Church, and a handful of others whose irreproachable  respectability was of such a degree that they were able with reason and persuasion, to turn their fellow citizens aside from such an irrevocable action. The second official historical marker is set into the wall of the building now housing Luna Café and Coffee and marks the site of the last officially noted personal gunfight on the streets of Luna City in 1919; this being a duel between Don Antonio Gonzales and Eusebio Garcia Maldonado. The only casualties were the radiator of Don Antonio’s Model-A sedan, a city street-light and a mule hitched to a wagon parked farther down the square, and felled by a wild shot from Eusebio’s revolver.

The third historical marker is set into the red brick and neo-classical style exterior wall of the what was once the Luna City Savings & Loan, but now houses city offices and the Chamber of Commerce. The Savings & Loan was a casualty of the Depression, closing its doors in 1933; since then, most Lunaites must do their bank business in Karnesville – but in the evanescently prosperous decade of the 1920s, it was a temple of the local economy. It even looked rather like a temple, a smaller mirror of the Luna City consolidated public school across Town Square – but in January, 1922, that magnificent neo-classical façade concealed a weakness: the bank’s massive safe was an older model, and vulnerable to a form of safe-cracking which was the forte of the quartet of bank- and railroad-robbing Newton brothers, of Uvalde, Texas. The mastermind of the gang, brother Willis Newton had procured a list of banks with old safes from a corrupt insurance official, and methodically worked their way through it. None of their bank heists were particularly notable for the size of the haul but they regularly cleaned out everything of value from a targeted bank, including small change and the contents of safe deposit boxes, striking early – usually in the middle of the night – and often, and making a clean getaway as well. In other words, the Newton boys and their safe-cracking expert, Brentwood “Brent” Glasscock, practiced bank robbery assembly-line fashion. Regular and successful looting of small-town banks amounted to more in the aggregate over a long period than an occasional spectacular and more dangerous raid against a bigger target.

But Luna City proved to be more than a match for the Newton boys, through a couple of fortunate circumstances. The first was that the local telephone exchange had just that very week been relocated to new premises, and the second – that Albert Wyler and a number of fellow ranch owners and cattlemen from across Karnes County were having a post-New-Years get-together at the Cattleman Hotel, a get-together involving much marathon yarn-telling and a certain amount of well-disguised alcohol consumption.

Although Karnes County was by tradition and practice not completely ‘dry’, at this time the United States labored under the burden of the Volstead Act, which likely only inconvenienced casual social drinkers … including Albert Wyler and his friends, some of whom – like Albert himself – had also been volunteer Rough Riders with Teddy Roosevelt’s cavalry company twenty-five years before. Luna City was, after all, the home town of Charles Everett Mills, bootlegger extraordinaire. Sometime around two in the morning, Albert Wyler excused himself from the gathering in the Cattleman Hotel’s second floor small salon and smoking room, pleading a call of nature and retiring to the room which he had taken for the night, for convenience, rather than returning in the early morning hours to the Wyler main house, which was a mere two miles from the Cattleman. Little did he expect the good fortune that would come from this circumstance. Even as Albert Wyler made his excuses to his fellows, receiving a certain amount of ribald teasing in response, Willis Newton was silently shimmying up the side of the building which had formerly housed the telephone exchange, and cutting what he assumed was the main line, thus rendering the whole of Luna City unable to communicate to the outside world … or even from telephone to telephone within city limits.

Unbeknown to Willis Newton, he had gone to the wrong building to sever the telephone wire, and during his brief absence from the gathering of cattlemen, Albert Wyler stepped out on the second-floor gallery for a breath of fresh air. Before rejoining his fellows, he looked down into the shadowed square, faintly illuminated by the streetlights of the time, and noticed a large Studebaker automobile, with headlamps dimmed, idling in the street before the Savings and Loan. Albert noted this initially with mild curiosity and then with growing concern. Automobiles were not uncommon in Luna City at that date; however, ownership of one was sufficiently rare so as to render each easily recognizable to a knowledgeable resident of the area. And Albert did not recognize the Studebaker at all. In those few moments, the conviction was formed in his mind – as he so related later – that there was nothing good going on, what with a strange automobile, it’s engine running in the street in front of the Luna City Savings and Loan. Indeed, this was the customary stratagem of the Newton gang – small town, dead of night in the middle of winter, fast and powerful automobile for a quick getaway. So firm was Albert’s instant conviction of this, that he hurried back to the gathering, exclaiming,

“Fellows, grab your irons – I think there’s a gang about to rob the bank!”

At that very instant, and as if to add emphasis to Albert’s words, Brent Glasscock blew the door of the massive safe – using a combination of nitroglycerine forced into the slight gap between the safe door and the safe itself, and setting it off with dynamite caps. The explosion was massive; not only did it open the safe, it also blew out the front door, every glass window at the front of the bank, and rattled windows all along the square. It also wakened every resident – and there were more of them in that day than this – who lived over a shop on Town Square, including Charles Abernathy, of Abernathy Hardware. (The father of Hiram Abernathy, grandfather of Martin and great-grandfather of Jess.)

Charles also looked down from the second floor window of the building which housed his enterprise and his family, and being closer to the Savings and Loan, had an even better view – or he would have, if he were not so near-sighted as to require eye glasses. But he could see the Studebaker, and the blurred forms of the robbers, even as three of the gang dashed back into the bank to grab what they could from the blown safe. Charles Abernathy caught up his father’s lever-action Winchester shotgun which had ever been the Abernathy’s first choice when it came to protecting their home, business and high-value stock, and blasted away.

Two of the Newton gang stood fast, with their own weapons and blasted back, not with any particular effect but to waken everyone who had not been wakened by the explosion in the Savings & Loan. Albert Wyler and his friends were also doubling through Town Square from the front of the Cattleman Hotel, howling and whooping like banshees, and firing their own sidearms. That there were no human casualties in this encounter is doubtless due to several factors. The Newton boys, unlike a number of other robbery gangs of that and an earlier era, had a demonstrated reluctance to add murder charges to that of robbery, in the event that they were ever captured and brought to trial. They were scrupulous in that respect, preferring to menace, scoop and skedaddle – hence their preference for minimizing risk by robbing banks when no one was likely to be around. That they were not casualties themselves was due to Charles Abernathy’s near-sightedness, and the amount of alcohol consumed by Albert Wyler’s companions.

Realizing that the element of surprise was lost, and that elements of the local citizenry were aroused, and perfectly willing to make a fight of it, the Newton gang prudently cut their losses and ran for safety, having only had time to empty out a small portion of the safe’s contents. They fled with the Studebaker’s engine roaring – waking up at last that portion of Luna City which had managed to so far to sleep through the explosion and the subsequent exchange of gunfire. Law enforcement was alerted in a timely fashion, but fortune smiled belatedly on the Newton gang, and they were able to shake off pursuit. It is a matter of record that they were somewhat shaken by their hairsbreadth escape in Luna City; their next recorded robbery of any substance took place in Toronto, Canada, the following year – nearly as far away from Luna City as you could get, without departing from the North American continent entirely.

There are still some obvious small chips and divots in the lower outside walls of the old building which housed the Savings and Loans, which are still pointed out to visitors – supposed to have been caused by one of Charles Abernathy’s missed shots, on a chilly January early morning in 1922.

 

 

23. December 2015 · Comments Off on The Oak at the Intersection of Oak Street and West Town Square · Categories: Places in Luna
The Mighty Oak

The Mighty Oak

11. December 2015 · Comments Off on A View of the Wyler Ranch “Big House” · Categories: Luna City Info Dump, Places in Luna
Wyler Ranch House

The “Big House” at the Wyler Exotic Game Ranch – this will also appear as a chapter head illustration in the next Luna City compliation.

23. October 2015 · Comments Off on Mills Farm · Categories: Places in Luna, Uncategorized

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.