Sam Houston’s grave is in the Huntsville cemetery, as was the final resting place of Kiowa Chief Satanta.
Satanta was tried in an American court for the war he waged on Texas, but leapt to his death from the window of the Huntsville prison infirmary rather than serve a life sentence in captivity.
Satanta’s remains were moved to Fort Sill, Okla., in the ’60s, but his headstone still stands.
I had visited this cemetery as a child to bury my mother’s family and often visited as a college student in the ’70s.
As I viewed these graves and considered the tears that had fallen on the face of history, the wonderful aroma of hardwood smoke laced with the sweet smell of meat rubbed with spices captured my senses.
I remembered my Huntsville uncle had told me to visit “Mista Herman” at his barbecue stand over by the graveyard.
Herman had worked at the feed store where our family traded. He was called “crazy Herman” for constantly talking to himself, muttering both questions and answers as he did his work. He repetitively addressed everyone as either “mista” or “ma’am.” He’d retired and opened a barbecue stand in his back yard, across from the cemetery.
The “regular” folks in town knew about Herman’s talent with barbecue, but the college crowd hadn’t discovered him yet. You could get barbecued rabbit and goat, along with brisket, “poke” chops and ribs.
I usually ordered the brisket, served cut in chunks with slices of “light bread” on sheets of butcher paper.
Herman’s barbecue melted in your mouth, leaving a trail of flavor that was known to “make an evil man kneel to Jesus, Mista” as Herman would repeat over and over.
On my first visit, Herman remembered me as my grandmother’s “chile” and he prattled on as I stuffed brisket in my mouth. He said he’d seen me by the “Indian main’s grave” and said that he and the Indian main spoke quite often.
Herman’s accent translated “man” to “main.”
As he turned the briskets and racks of ribs on the pit, he continued talking about the Indian main. He said that the Indian main had done some bad things fighting for his country and was put in prison. Herman said that he, too, had done some bad things fighting for his country in World War II.
Herman said, “My mind was put in prison, Mista.”
My father once told me that men had become “shell shocked” in that war. I recalled his words and reflected on those who had fought for our country and received infirmity as their reward. Tears rolled down history’s face each time this patriot had been called “Crazy Herman.”
I told Herman that the Indian main’s bones had been moved to Oklahoma some time back. He laughed and said “Mista, my mind’s back in Germany, but me and that Indian main, our spirits live in Texas.”
I considered these tears on the face of history while Mista Herman cut some more brisket for me.
John Dundee lives in Galveston.