Question: As the oldest known resident of our little village, and witness to over a century and a half of history, can you offer any explanation for the earthquakes at what we know as the old Texas Stadium plot? Can you clarify the rumor that an old Indian burial ground has been disturbed? What the hell happened there? And why now are the spirits angry? Or is there another explanation for the earth rattling that we might understand with your ancient wisdom? — John B.
I’m going to spin you a yarn, and mind that I’m not saying that the following actually happened in the early days of Dallas, but I’m also not not saying that. Think of it as a parable, and if that leads you to draw parallels between myself and a certain Judean carpenter, so be it.
You see there came a time when a sizable shipment of tobacco found itself waylaid in a nascent Texas town. The wagon train on which it was being shuttled to points west was stuck nearby after several wheels broke, and they were forced to put in with the local wainwright for repairs.
This turned out a blessing for the townspeople, as it allowed the caretaker of the tobacco the opportunity to educate them as to the multitudinous benefits of chewing the “miracle weed,” the “crop that fostered the birth of the American nation itself.” Every man, woman, and child could soon be seen with bulges in their cheeks and lower lips, and its effect was immediate. The town, in constant stimulation thanks to nicotine, was more productive than ever. The economy began to boom as a result, and local leaders eagerly signed on with the tobacco company to ensure a steady supply.
Only, soon after, the sole negative side effect of this pursuit became apparent: The town was lousy with tobacco juice. You couldn’t walk more than a few feet without stepping in a puddle of the oral discharge, since even after every available bucket and flask was marshaled to the purpose there weren’t enough receptacles to contain the demand.
Some suggested the construction of a factory capable of producing an unlimited number of ever larger spittoons and placing these in every bit of empty space. A blue-ribbon committee was even appointed to study the proper method and instrumentation of such a plan. But then one evening the town’s wise ferry operator was pondering these difficulties while looking out west over the river. Suddenly he was struck by the vision of a huge blue star in the distance. He ran to his companion, who strangely swore that there was nothing there — that the ferry operator was three sheets to the wind and should go back to bed.
However, this brave man knew better. He left immediately in the direction of the star, trekking for hours into the night until finally he collapsed off his horse in exhaustion from his exertions. When he awoke, he found himself at the edge of a sinkhole, and the solution to the town’s problems became apparent. (Not to mention the opportunity to turn a profit.)
There was quick agreement to his proposal to cart away the excess expectorate each morning in return for a modest sum. He arranged to pour the fluid into the sinkhole, and the townspeople could get about their business unabated.
For a while this worked beautifully. The town’s paths and byways were no longer flooded with a warm, brown ooze. Tobacco consumption even ticked upward a bit as workhorses and oxen were found also to benefit from the habit.
Then the rumbling began. It was as if the planet itself were rising up in revolt against the town. At first the shaking of the ground was a novelty. Folks swapped crude drawings of toppled chairs with sarcastic phrases like “Never Forget” written across the top. Everyone had a good laugh. But over the course of months, as the frequency and intensity of these events increased, the panic about what the people had done to anger the Lord grew.
You’ll recall that this was long before the days of seismology, the theory of plate tectonics, and the development of Charles Francis Richter’s scale. Even the town’s most learned minds hadn’t a clue as to the cause.
What they did know was that before they dumped tobacco juice into the ground, there were no quakes. After they had, there were. So they shut down the operation, topped the sinkhole with a massive mound of rocks and dirt, planted a number of trees there, and switched to chugging coffee and smoking cigarettes.
Dismounting this sermon,
John Neely Bryan is the founder of the city of Dallas and an expert on all matters. Email him for advice, to have a dispute adjudicated, or to seek his wisdom on any of a myriad of topics, at [email protected].