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Portrait of Sam Houston.

'Texas Originals' exhibit de-mystifies things Texan


Young folks who have trouble naming the four Beatles wouldn't remember the phrase: "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star."

Nope. It's not a trailer for an epic John Wayne Western featuring a horseless carriage. It's the slogan for Texaco Inc., whose television commercial aired for years in late '60s and early '70s. Texaco was founded under a different name in 1901 by Joseph S. "Buckskin Joe" Cullinan and Arnold Schlaet; the Texas Fuel Co. opened its first office in Beaumont.

The days of "ding-ding" full-service gasoline stations, where the uniformed Texaco attendant filled up the tank, spritzed the windshield, and popped the hood to check the oil, are on the wane. They have been replaced by pay-first and pump-it-yourself mini-marts staffed by surly cashiers who stand outside, puff on cigarettes, and gawk at customers who dare to ask for anything more than lip service. Free air for the tires and water for the radiator are made extinct by remote compressor boxes that barely work, but still charge you 50 cents for the privilege of getting ripped off. Nowadays, it seems the Chevron Texaco Corp. can't be bothered by the concept of service excellence.

Through September 1
10am-8pm Mon-Wed
10am-5pm Thu-Sat
noon-5pm Sun
$5.95 adults
$4.95 seniors
$3.95 children ages 4-11
Free 3-9pm Tue
Witte Museum
3801 Broadway
But former full-service customers who get weepy and nostalgic for those bygone days have reason to hope, at least through September 1. San Antonio's Witte Museum pays tribute to the era of service with a smile with its "Texas Originals" exhibit, a "larger than life history of Texas ... explored through three iconic images uniquely associated with the Lone Star State."

The three-part exhibit focuses on the Alamo, the cattle industry, and "Texas Gold," an account of the oil industry from Spindletop to the boomtowns that sprang up overnight on a ripe oil field.

"This was an effort to look at Texas history and look at Texas documents that we had in our collection," says Michaele Haynes, curator of history and textile collections at the Witte Museum. "There are a number of events or categories in Texas history that take on mythic proportions, and we're trying to look at some reality behind these mythic images."

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Davy Crockett's fiddle.
The Alamo exhibit cannonades the myth that the 1836 Battle of the Alamo was an issue of Anglos versus Mexicans. It was merely one battle in a larger war. "We tried to show the growing movement in Texas for a return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which was the original impetus of the civil war. There were people all over México who were concerned about this. It was an issue of federalists who wanted power in the states, and the centralists who wanted power in the national government. Texas was part of that civil war."

The cowboy phase of the exhibit corrals the Tom Mix image of the cowpoke that Hollywood invented. "The reality is the vaqueros really started cattle work in Texas. So many of the techniques derived from the vaquero." The occupation was diversified. "There was a relatively high percentage of black cowboys, and cowboys from different backgrounds. There also were women who accompanied their husbands on cattle drives and who worked on ranches."

The final phase of "Texas Originals" spotlights the oil industry. "The mythic image is that of the movie Giant, or the TV series, Dallas. Those are your two big pop culture images of oil," Haynes explains. "Virtually everybody in Texas benefits from oil."

Haynes says the exhibit "is a work in progress," and there are plans to add on to it. The topic of oil-rich philanthropists who donated schools, hospitals, playgrounds and museums throughout Texas is on the museum staff's agenda. By the way, the four Beatles are John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. •

More by Michael Cary



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