March 25, 2014

Frank Elton "Pancho" Snyder

Originally from San Antonio, Snyder began his major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1912 at the age of 18 and soon nicknamed "Pancho" since he was of Mexican descent. He was traded to the New York Giants in the middle of the 1919 season and was a member of John McGraw's Giants teams that won four consecutive National League pennants (1921-1924) and two World Series winners (1921-1922).

During that period, Snyder posted a batting average above .300 three times, with a .320 average in 1921, a .343 average in 1922 and a .302 average in 1924. He hit the first major league home run in the history of Braves Field in 1922. In 1926, he was selected off waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals and played for them in 1927 before retiring at the end of the season at the age of 33.

In a sixteen-year major league career, Snyder played in 1,392 games, accumulating 1,122 hits in 4,229 at bats for a .265 career batting average along with 44 triples, 47 home runs and 525 runs batted in. A good defensive player, his .981 career fielding average was 8 points higher than the league average over the span of his playing career. Snyder led National League catchers in fielding percentage three times: in 1914, 1923 and 1925. He also led the league twice in putouts and caught stealing percentage and, once in assists and in baserunners caught stealing. His 204 assists as a catcher in 1915 is the seventh highest single-season total in major league baseball history. His 1,332 career assists rank him 17th all-time among major league catchers.

The Society for American Baseball Research ranked Snyder as the ninth-most dominating fielding catcher in major league history. His reputation as a defensive standout is enhanced because of the era in which he played. In the Deadball Era, catchers played a huge defensive role, given the large number of bunts and stolen base attempts, as well as the difficulty of handling the spitball pitchers who dominated pitching staffs.

After his playing career, he served as a coach for the New York Giants, and was a minor league manager until his retirement from the sport. Snyder died in his hometown of San Antonio on January 5, 1962.

GPS Coordinates
29° 28.660, -098° 25.866

Section PH
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

March 18, 2014

John Richardson Harris

John Richardson Harris, early Harris County settler and founder of Harrisburg, the son of John and Mary (Richardson) Harris, was born in Cayuga, New York, on October 22, 1790. On May 7, 1813, he married Jane Birdsall. John and Jane Birdsall Harris settled near Waterloo, New York, where two sons, DeWitt Clinton and Lewis Birdsall Harris, were born. In 1819 they were living in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, where their daughter Mary Jane Harris Briscoe was born. A third son, John Birdsall Harris, was born in 1821. At Ste. Genevieve Harris met Moses Austin and decided to move to Texas. He came to Texas in his own vessel in 1824 and received title to 4,428 acres of land at the junction of Bray's and Buffalo bayous in what is now Harris County. He boarded with William Scott while he built a house on the peninsula between the bayous and a store and warehouse on Buffalo Bayou.

In 1826 he employed Francis W. Johnson to lay out the town of Harrisburg. With his brother David Harris, John Harris established a second trading post at Bell's Landing on the Brazos River. Their sloops and schooners plied between Texas and New Orleans. One of these vessels, The Rights of Man, carried eighty-four bales of cotton to New Orleans in 1828. Harris was building a steam sawmill-gristmill at Harrisburg in 1829, when he went to New Orleans to buy equipment and there contracted yellow fever. After his death on August 21, 1829, his sawmill and shipping enterprise were operated by his brothers David, Samuel, and William Plunkett Harris. His widow and son DeWitt moved to Texas in 1833; the other children came later. Litigation over Harris's estate prevented Harrisburg from becoming the seat of the new Texas government in 1836, when Houston was named instead.

Note
This is a cenotaph. John Harris died in New Orleans of yellow fever and was buried in a mass grave with other victims. His burial site is now lost.

GPS Coordinates
29° 43.218, -095° 16.456

Glendale Cemetery
Houston

 

March 11, 2014

William Bennett Scates

William Bennett Scates, soldier and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, son of Joseph and Elizabeth Scates, was born in Halifax County, Virginia, on June 27, 1802. The family moved to Christian County, Kentucky, where Scates remained until 1820, when he went to New Orleans; there he clerked and did carpenter work. He arrived at Anahuac, Texas, on March 2, 1831, and in 1832 participated in the Anahuac Disturbances and the battle of Velasco. In 1835 he joined the Revolutionary Army and took part in the siege of Bexar.

Scates was one of the two representatives from Jefferson Municipality at the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos and there signed the Declaration of Independence. When he left the convention, Scates rejoined the army and participated in the battle of San Jacinto in Benjamin F. Bryant's company of Sabine Volunteers. When Bryant's company was disbanded, Scates joined Hayden S. Arnold's Nacogdoches Company. After the revolution he settled in Washington County, where he married Theodocia Clardy Smith on November 17, 1836; two children were born to them. By 1840 Scates had title to 150 acres in Fayette County; he also appears on that county's 1846 poll-tax list. After his first wife's death, he married Sarah McMillan, on March 25, 1850; they had five children. At the age of sixty-two, Scates enlisted as a private in Company F, Fourth Battalion, Texas Cavalry, Texas State Troops, on October 9, 1863. He died on February 22, 1882, and was buried near Osage, Colorado County. In 1929 the state of Texas reinterred the bodies of Scates and his second wife in the State Cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
30° 15.916, -097° 43.634

Monument Hill
Texas State Cemetery
Austin

March 4, 2014

"Babe" Didrikson Zaharias

Mildred Ella (Babe) Didrikson Zaharias, athlete, was born on June 26, 1911, in Port Arthur, Texas, the sixth of seven children of Norwegian immigrants Ole Nickolene and Hannah Marie (Olson) Didriksen. Ole Didriksen was a seaman and carpenter, and his wife was an accomplished skater in Norway. In 1915 the family moved to Beaumont, Texas, where the children, with the encouragement of both parents, became skilled performers on the rustic gymnasium equipment that their father built in the backyard. Mildred Didrikson, who changed the spelling of her surname, acquired her nickname during sandlot baseball games with the neighborhood boys, who thought she batted like Babe Ruth.

A talented basketball player in high school, Didrikson was recruited during her senior year in 1930 to do office work at Employers Casualty Company of Dallas and to spark the company's semiprofessional women's basketball team, the Golden Cyclones. Between 1930 and 1932 she led the team to two finals and a national championship and was voted All-American each season. Her exceptional athletic versatility prompted Employers Casualty to expand its women's sports program beyond basketball. Didrikson represented the company as a one-woman team in eight of ten track and field events at the 1932 Amateur Athletic Union Championships. She placed in seven events, taking first place in five-shot put, javelin and baseball throws, eighty-meter hurdles, and long jump; she tied for first in the high jump and finished fourth in the discus throw. In three hours Didrikson singlehandedly amassed thirty points, eight more than the entire second-place team, and broke four world records. Her performances in the javelin throw, hurdles, and high jump qualified her to enter the 1932 Olympics, where she again broke world records in all three events. She won gold medals for the javelin and hurdles and, despite clearing the same height as the top finisher in the high jump, was awarded the silver medal because she went over the bar head first, a foul at that time.

Didrikson received a heroine's welcome on her return to Texas. She had started another basketball season with the Golden Cyclones when the Amateur Athletic Union disqualified her from amateur competition because her name appeared in an automobile advertisement. Her family was badly in need of money, and Didrikson turned professional to earn what she could from her status as a sports celebrity. Never hesitant to capitalize on her own abilities or to turn a profit from showmanship, she spent 1932–34 promoting and barnstorming. She did a brief stint in vaudeville playing the harmonica and running on a treadmill and pitched in some major league spring-training games; she also toured with a billiards exhibition, a men's and women's basketball team called Babe Didrikson's All-Americans, and an otherwise all-male, bearded baseball road team called the House of David.

Since golf was one of the few sports that accommodated women athletes, Didrikson made up her mind to become a championship player, and between engagements she spent the spring and summer of 1933 in California taking lessons from Stan Kertes. Her first tournament was the Fort Worth Women's Invitational in November 1932; at her second, the Texas Women's Amateur Championship the following April, she captured the title. Complaints from more socially polished members of the Texas Women's Golf Association led the United States Association to rule her ineligible to compete as an amateur, thus disqualifying her from virtually all tournament play. Didrikson resumed the lucrative routine of exhibition tours and endorsements, impressing audiences with smashing drives that regularly exceeded 240 yards.

She met George Zaharias, a well-known professional wrestler and sports promoter, when she qualified at the 1938 Los Angeles Open, a men's Professional Golfers' Association tournament. They were married on December 23, 1938, and Zaharias thereafter managed his wife's career. She regained her amateur standing in 1943 and went on to win seventeen consecutive tournaments, including the British Women's Amateur Championship (she was the first American to win it), before turning professional in 1947. The following year Didrikson helped found the Ladies Professional Golf Association in order to provide the handful of professional women golfers with a tournament circuit. She was herself the LPGA's leading money winner between 1949 and 1951. In 1950 the Associated Press voted her Woman Athlete of the Half-Century.

In April 1953 Didrikson underwent a colostomy to remove cancerous tissue. Despite medical predictions that she would never be able to play championship golf again, she was in tournament competition fourteen weeks after surgery, and the Golf Writers of America voted her the Ben Hogan Trophy as comeback player of the year. In 1954 she won five tournaments, including the United States Women's Open. Portrayed as a courageous survivor in the press, Didrikson played for cancer fund benefits and maintained her usual buoyant public persona, but in June 1955 she was forced to reenter John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for further diagnosis. Medical treatment was unable to contain the spreading cancer, and Didrikson spent much of the remaining fifteen months of her life in the hospital. In September 1955 she and her husband established the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Fund, which financed a tumor clinic at UTMB.

She died at John Sealy Hospital on September 27, 1956, at the age of forty-five, and was buried in Beaumont. Didrikson's exuberant confidence, self-congratulatory manner, and cultivation of her celebrity status irritated some fellow athletes, but she was the most popular female golfer of her own time and since. She enjoyed playing to the gallery in her golf matches, and her wisecracks and exhibitions of virtuosity delighted spectators. She was voted Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press six times during her career. Between 1940 and 1950 she won every women's golf title, including the world championship (four times) and the United States Women's Open (three times). She established a national audience for women's golf and was the first woman ever to serve as a resident professional at a golf club. In 1955, a year before her death, she established the Babe Zaharias Trophy to honor outstanding female athletes.

GPS Coordinates
30° 07.620, -094° 05.927

Zaharias Circle
Forest Lawn Memorial Park
Beaumont