A Shooting in Texas 2-14-06

A Shooting in Texas


Richard J. Garfunkel

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2006


Probably because of the 26.9 inch snowfall that blanketed Central Park, which thankfully caused very little dislocation in the way earlier blizzards, news was pretty sparse this past weekend. We, like many other Americans here in the northeast, were bundled up in our warm town house and were occupied with the Winter Olympics. How fitting after a January bereft of snow, as the winter games opened, our area was cloaked with a white, deep layer of harmless white powder.


It was a quiet weekend with news of Jack Abramoff, Scooter Libby, exploding IED’s in Iraq on the back burner. The big news was of Britney Spears, the trailer park trash icon, who was seen driving with her infant on her lap. Immediately there was an outcry of child abuse. Could it be that poor (rich) little Britney would be hauled into traffic court for endangering the health and welfare of a minor? Of course Britney claimed that she was only trying to protect her helpless progeny from the paparazzi.


So this rare quietude was broken by an incident worthy of Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner or even the master A. Conan Doyle. There was a shooting on a Texas ranch involving the Vice-president of the United States. One could just imagine Hercule Poirot being a guest at the ranch and having to investigate this affaire de armes. I believe that there was an episode where a shooting did take place and it was set up as an accident. Doesn’t life imitate art at times? Lo and behold we were shocked back to reality from our late winter reverie. Of course this is no normal ranch but a 50,000-acre spread, that normally would be considered humungous except that it borders on the King Ranch. For many of you that have forgotten, the King Ranch, owned by the Klebergs of Texas, is the largest private spread in the free world. The King Ranch is over 825,000 acres, situated between Corpus Christie and Brownsville, and encompasses over 6 Texas counties. It was acquired and consolidated by Richard King, (1825-1885) in the 1850’s and where he eventually crossbred Brahman cattle with the local shorthorn beef on the hoof to create the Santa Gertrudis stock. This was the basis of the King fortune until oil came along. Many years later when his daughter, Henrietta King (1862-1944) died, her son-in-law Robert Kleberg, Sr. took over the ranch and paid off it s debts. 


The Armstrong Ranch was founded by the late Texas Ranger, John B. Armstrong, who bought the land in 1882 with a bounty of $4000 given to him for assisting in the capture of the notorious western bad boy John Wesley Hardin. Of course one of the later Armstrong’s married one of the heirs to the King Ranch fortune and that solidified their long-standing relationship. As a guest of Katherine Armstrong, who with her partner Ms. Karen Powers, were for years lobbyists for Parsons, an engineering and construction firm that does extensive work in Iraq. Ms. Armstrong’s mother Anne Legendre Armstrong, was the Ambassador to Great Britain form 1976-7, and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1997.


The Armstrong Ranch is a frequent stop over for Republican pooh bah politicians who seek to curry favor with the ruling Texas aristocracy while they are entertained by shooting quail (or is it spelled Quayle like the other fellow who was Vice-President of potato-spelling fame under daddy George Bush I) and can mix with the people who really count.


The Vice-President, a good friend of Wayne LaPierre and the gun lobby, was discharging his 28-gauge shotgun at a flock of birds, when fellow hunter, Harry Whittington, a 78 year old lawyer stumbled out of the tall grass with a dead bird in his grasp. Of course, as a result of the Veep’s inopportune firing, Mr. Whittington fell down with a face load of birdshot and of course the party was over. The Secret Service rushed to the aid of Mr. Whittington who was not in the greatest shape and administered immediate first aid. Another of the chic, chic guests, Ambassador Pamela Pitzer Willeford, one of the beautiful people who enjoy the Armstrong’s hospitality, later stated it was the victim’s fault for not warning the shooting party of his approach. Even old Whittington later pleaded guilty for his foolish lack of hunting decorum. Of course the local constable, one Sheriff Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy (yes, that’s right) County (how did they know which county official to call?) was called and he stated the case was closed. Accidental shooting! It’s not uncommon in those parts. Especially if booze if afoot.


Of course mostly the White House Press Corps, the national media, which has little else to worry about, and the late night television wags made this a tempest in a teapot in Texas. But it was interesting that the White House wanted to manage this story beyond its real worth. It was a field day for these folk who do not wish the Veep the best of felicitations. It was candidate Dick Cheney, who was overheard on an open microphone during the 2000 campaign characterizing New York Timesman Adam Clymer with a four-letter invective. The Veep who is no darling of the left –wing, and his acolytes probably will start to characterize his critics as captives of the elitist liberal cabal that runs the media. But of course shock-jock Don Imus, no captive of the bleeding hearts, likes to refer to the Veep as our own Darth Vader. The Veep, who seems to like guns of all shapes, from his so-called peewee 28-gauge shotgun to Rummy’s new super-duper howitzer that the Pentagon doesn’t want, has become the second Vice-president to be involved in gunplay. Back in 1804 in early morning fog of Weehawken, NJ, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. Usually Vice-Presidents only get in the news when they are quoted with some unforgettable remark like Wilson’s Vice-President Thomas Marshall who said, “What this country needs is a really good five cent cigar,” or FDR’s first Vice-President John Nance Garner, who said, “The Vice-Presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss.” (High school textbooks, for the more tendered ear, have reported that as a warm pitcher of spit.) Of course not to be forgotten from the late and not lamented Spiro Agnew, who said, “To some extent, if you’ve seen one city slum you’ve seen them all.” (“Or nattering nabobs of negativism!”)


But getting back to Burr, after his term ended in 1805 he exiled himself out west, tried to set up an Empire in Texas and was tried for treason. Could history repeat itself again?




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