Short Stories: Gary Border
Newspaper editor/publisher, Gary Borders, was among the six speakers presenting oral histories at the second “Deep in the Heart of Taylor” story night at Taylor’s Moody Museum, March 23, 2019.
The first novel by Henry Fox, The 2000-Mile Turtle, was about a small-town newspaper editor and is clearly based on many of his experiences running newspapers in Centerville, Madisonville, Taylor and his hometown of Granger.
I was also a newspaper man and while running the Fort Stockton Pioneer, I ran Fox’s column under the pseudonym of Pecos Willy. Fox used satire and humor to touch on current events and once a month I’d sign a check to H.B. Fox for the modest amount of $7.50.
In early 1989, the column arrived containing a preface that read, “If you have wondered who Pecos Willy was, we can now tell you that he was a local man… as we pretended. He was H. B. Fox who lived on a ranch in Texas.” Fox had died of pancreatic cancer January 31, 1989 at age 78.
In 2008, I learned that his daughter, Carol Fox, still lived on her parent’s farm in Circleville, which was occasionally used as a movie setting. A few years after that, with more time on my hands, I collected all of Henry Fox’s columns from 1935 through 1989 and then met with Carol.
My goal was to tell a story about a reclusive and shy man whose name was largely unknown to readers of his column and whose total readership at one time exceeded one million. This was at a time when country newspapers enjoyed their greatest influence and widest readership. They were considered an essential part of life.
A native of Granger, he graduated from Southwestern University and then spent a year in New York City. He returned home to purchase the tiny Leon County News in Centerville in 1935. He focused on a family theme. He claimed that people in small towns “picked the best pieces of the world to live in. They have all of the comforts of city life and few of the discomforts, and little of the distrust and aloofness that makes city life a constant dollar-and-cents existence.”
Soon after, he introduced readers to the Navasota Philosopher, a fictional letter-to-the-editor writer with a unique manner of both spelling and punctuating the English language. He spelled editor, editar, and signed every letter “Yours faithfully, JA.” Apparently no one ever asked what JA stood for – Jack Ass!
He bought the larger Madisonville Meteor in 1937 and began drawing attention for his wit and talent at finding oddball stories. He was frequently picked up in Dallas and Houston newspapers. An example of a column was that a 90-year-old Civil War veteran had moved to Madison County because veterans are too crowded in Grimes County. He was asked how many veterans were in Grimes County. “There are two counting me,’ he grinned. ‘The move gives Madison County and Grimes County one veteran apiece, as there were none living here before Mr. Long arrived.”
Two years after he had been Madisonville, Fox held his first subscription hen contest. Farmers were cash poor, so if you brought in a five-pound hen or two that totaled more than five pounds, you received a nine-month subscription. He sold about 250 subscriptions that way and then sold the hens to a wholesaler producer.
In 1939, Henry Fox was named best country newspaper writer in the U. S. by Country Home Magazine. It was a big deal that included an all-expense paid trip to New York and a $500 cash prize.
After serving gallantly as an army typist in Virginia, he returned to his farm in Circleville and published the Granger News, the Taylor Times and the Highland Lake News with Wick Fowler, who later became famous for his chili.
Eventually he sold all but the Granger paper. He was always innovative, once printing seven pages of edit, saying he left the eighth page blank to be used to figure taxes. Another time he printed the paper upside down, saying it was in the public interest “to enable its readers to accustom themselves more readily to world conditions.”
At the height of the cold war, he said, “I imagine the world has been on the brink of ruin ever since man discovered what a brink was.” He claimed city people think they are “building tall buildings to express their personalities, shutting out each other’s views, but are actually only building bomb targets.”
In another piece, he wrote about a man spotted along the Navasota River with no government checks. He was searched but had no pension check, no bonus check, no corn/hog check, no cotton check, no relief check, no peanut check, no parity check, no plow-up check – “I ain’t never heard nobody without no government check.” “I suggest you get a posse and we can comb the Navasota vados and catch checkless fellow and take him to the Centennial for exhibiting.”
The last piece published was a takedown of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. He said it was 945 pages of trail driving, murders, dust storms, rainstorms, hail storms and grasshopper storms. McMurtry left the cowboys stranded in snow watching 3,000 head of cattle, having built a log cabin complete with fireplace in only ten days. About the Pulitzer Prize, Fox figured “either McMurtry knows very little about the Old West or he was pulling the legs of the nation’s literary critics who went head over heels in lavishing praise upon his masterpiece.”
In addition to The 2000-mile Turtle, Fox wrote two other books, Dirty Politics is Fun and Murder in a Small Town (Perhaps).
Click here to read the transcript