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Chasing the Lit Mag Photo Essay, 21

Working with NYC street photographer Donato DiCamillo, San Antonio, Texas, January 2018.

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March 27, 2018
 
 

After lunch Donato and I walked the quiet streets of Flatonia. Kathy and Jeff Hairgrove run Hairgrove Saddlery & Gifts in a historic building on Sixth Street. Jeff used to be the foreman of a large east Texas ranch. When he retired he and Kathy lovingly restored this shop, where they also live. Kathy makes folk art; Jeff is a saddle restorer and leather artisan.

I always bring my sons something from my trips, so I considered buying them each a penknife from the Hairgroves’ shop. Rough Rider Knives were named for “the group of men who volunteered to follow Teddy Roosevelt. In 1898, 23,000 men volunteered to ride with Teddy Roosevelt, but he hand picked only 2,000. The men hailed from every corner of the country. They were Princeton football players, full-blooded Pawnee Indians, trail-wise cowboys, aristocratic Englishmen, polo players, and even Rhodes Scholars. They came from every state and social class. Those men became one of the best fighting forces in history.”

Their handles showed the iconic “DON’T TREAD ON ME” and rattlesnake of the Gadsden flag. As a kid I liked the design because it looked cool and because it was a Revolutionary War flag, so I believed it meant something to all of us. Now it’s often used as a symbol by libertarians (third-largest political party in Texas) and by the tea party movement. (Nearly twenty-percent of voters in Texas say they’d vote for tea party candidates above all.)

I’ve come to dislike taunting slogans, which threaten violence but are cloaked as defense. In much of Texas—perhaps nowhere more than in San Antonio—people love their “Come and Take It” bumper stickers with a lone star and a cannon that’s lost its carriage. It’s from the fight against Mexico, but it gets updated for our times with all sorts of other things, like AR-15s and AK-47s.

"We fly a 'Come and Take It' flag in front of our establishment because we believe the federal government has gotten too big and that it's reaching out too far," the proprietor of a roadhouse north of San Antonio told NPR. When they asked him who was coming to take what, he said, "Our rights! Our freedoms!"

For better or worse, the Gadsden flag is still an apt symbol of our republic.

When in Rome: I bought the knives.

After I got them home I realized they’re made in China. Tiny slips of paper were stuck to them in the boxes: “Warning: This product contains a chemical or substance known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.” That too seemed significant. Significance was everywhere on this trip. Coherence was another thing.

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