Library collection celebrates Fenley’s story-rich life
On page 1 of the Austin-based State Observer, February 1, 1943, there is a beautiful photograph of Florence Fenley in stunning western formal wear for women of the time: she wears a dark western-cut blouse with piping light colored along the seams. , a fringed riding skirt and white western hat, tilted to the left, to reveal a cheerful, open face and a big Texan smile.
In the photo, she easily sits on a painting, holding a beautiful bouquet in her gloved hand. The tapaderos are pushed away from the horse to hold it in place for the picture that clearly emerges from its eyes did not make it happy that it is expected to be endured.
The caption reads: “THE INCREDIBLE MRS. FENLEY.
The author of the article is clearly infatuated with her, as it seems almost everyone would be.
The article mentions that she could “go horseback riding and rope,” that she “survived drinking water from cow trails when she was a child, girl and woman” and that at various times. At times and under different circumstances, she saw both her husband and her father. turned “in front of his eyes”. The article boasts that she is “tall, brunette and beautiful in the warm Texas way.”
She was hailed by the Austin Newspaper as one of three sitting female legislators at the time.
The article refers to the time in 1940 when a photographer from Uvalde Leader-News accompanied her on a hike to San Antonio. She entered the Gunter Hotel on her horse to sign the register.
She has been named the sweetheart of the Cowboy’s International Association. The photo reflects exactly what this sweetheart must have looked like when she received this honor. She was also named a sweetheart of the Old Trail Driver’s Association.
She was a daughter of Uvalde and an editor for the Uvalde Leader-News.
She had deep, wild Texas roots, and was endowed with the charisma to gain the trust of many “elders” to enable her to listen and then tell their stories.
She reveled in the rustic country, the good story, the one with a punch line, the one well told, the one that not only tells the story, but also reveals the history of time, the story of, for example. , the “mule-drawn hearse” the one “that fell into a ‘fugue’… and [in which] the corpse got up and went home ”or the one about“ Button ”, the horse that an“ elder ”had brought home as a foal for his wife to take care of him and love of his family, who has become a unique horse. horse man who loved him as much as his children, and was the horse that the “Indians” attacked their farm trying to capture, along with their other horses that they were, in fact, able to capture but found their way to. return, and the story that explains the importance of blindfolding a horse before pulling it out of a burning stable and how the fire at Booth Livery stable in Uvalde claimed the lives of eight or nine horses, which prompted the stable to post signs that read “Cowboys spit on your matches” to make sure they wouldn’t start another fire.
Fenley enjoyed, interviewed, and wrote stories about the “oldies,” not just some of the “oldies,” but those who helped tame, harness, and groom Texas.
She wrote her first story for the Cattleman in 1939, and she wrote many stories about the land, horses and people of Texas in
“Oldtimers,” a collection of stories she wrote for the Uvalde Leader News, the collection of which was published that same year.
The stories are at times poignant, at times hilarious, full of easy-to-swallow life lessons at times, always filled with true stories of the hardness and toughness of those who struggled and those who survived across the wild west that was Uvalde. from the reconstruction period to the turn of the century.
There is drama: in a story collected in the anthology, “Heart Full of Horses”, cowboys hired with their “wagonettes” as taxis to pick up and drop off passengers at the station “three kilometers” from Uvalde.
Drivers would fight over passengers, maybe whip another driver’s horses and throw them into a pole. Old man Joe Davis confessed to him that he kept a black eye because of the shenanigans he pulled to get passengers.
But Fenley was not just a collector of stories, not just a storyteller, not just a writer.
She served from 1943 to 1946 as the Texas State Representative for District 77, and she hosted a radio show in which she interviewed alumni.
She was an Eastern Star Daughter of the Confederacy and a member of the Daughters of Texas Trail Drivers Association. She was the wagon master.
She was a club woman and she subscribed to a magazine with that name. She wrote feature articles for the Uvalde Leader News for 40 years, and publisher Harry Hornby Jr. wrote her obituary.
In it, he quotes J. Frank Dobie saying about her that she “has the right melody as well as the right words.” She’s the most wonderful journalist I know.
J. Frank Dobie had been a professor at the University of Texas and had been secretary and editor of the Texas Folklore Society for many years.
In 1957, he created an annotated guide to the life and literature of the Southwest. J. Frank Dobie recognized the good handwriting.
The El Progreso Memorial Library has been endowed with a collection of ephemera – printed materials – which in some way refer to the “incredible” Florence Fenley.
The collection includes, among hundreds of other paper items, several stenographer’s books filled in on both sides with very clear and neat shorthand. It is assumed that these could easily hold some of the “old” interviews whose stories came to life at his request.
In the collection there is a letter from the editor of “True West Magazine”, JA Small, dated June 7, 1957, in which he refers to one of his works, “Things I never Saw Before”.
He tells her that he is “ashamed” of himself because J. Frank Dobie gave him both papers and he had just contacted her about them.
Small told Fenley that they “could make some stories out of it for True West.”
And, of course, the rest is history. They drew stories from it.
He told her that they would be able to pay him “1 penny (with a slash) per word” when posting “for whatever we use”.
The publisher again references the legendary Texas folklorist, educator, and author later in the same letter.
“Sir. Dobie tells me you have a book called Tales Of The Oldtimers. Maybe we could pull out a number of stories as well?” And, of course, they did.
Among the many printed artifacts in the collection donated by Gerron S. Hite to the El Progreso Library and the Virginia Woods Davis Archives are copies of manually typed manuscripts. and dozens of letters written to Fenley during his tenure as a member of the House of Representatives,
A particularly poignant letter to her, the governor, and other lawmakers in a group of retailers in 1942, begged her and others not to raise taxes in an effort to improve the economy, because this action would not improve, but would damage more, the economy.
There are stacks of books, tax receipts and personal letters, each of which seems to corroborate the State Observer’s 1943 observation that Florence Fenley was, indeed, an “incredible” woman.
Virginia Davis from the Archives Virginia Wood Davis at the El Progreso Library hopes to find volunteers interested in helping organize the collection.
She also hopes to find someone who can read shorthand so that notes from shorthand books can be transcribed.
Fenley captured parts of the life stories of the elders, and now parts of Fenley’s life stories are to be captured and eventually safely stored in the archives of the El Progreso Memorial Library.
Meanwhile, those who wish to do so may believe, as Fenley’s daughter Belle Fenley Edwards, her mother hoped, “that in the great ‘remuda’ that follows the herd (ghost) [that there was, indeed, waiting there] a certain paint pony reserved for the girl who rode it yesterday.
ROBERTA WALDEN is a writer for the Uvalde Leader-News, constantly seeking the good in all situations and in all people. She thinks words can be powerful: they can start and end wars, and she tries to be very careful with hers.