The older we get, the faster time seems to pass.
But the history of Texas is full of instances in which the time between the beginning and the end of something is much longer than you might think.
The status of certain things on a winter day near the midpoint of the 20th century is a good example.
Consider Jan. 15, 1946. World War II had been over four months. With Germany already defeated, the United States had wrapped up the war the summer before with the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The world had entered the nuclear age, but in Texas as of that date in January 1946, state tax dollars still funded pensions for 18 Confederate military veterans.
The Civil War had been over for 80 years, more than the expected life span of people born well into the 20th century.
But as long as men who had helped to fight it were still alive, was the war between the states really over?
These were the old rebels still alive in 1946 and their hometowns: James A. Abney, Brownwood; John A. Davis, Columbus; W.W. Foster, Cross Plains; R.S. Hilburn, Graham; T.B. Iden, Lovelady; R.F. Presley, Dallas; T.R. McGuyer, Cooper; W.W. McLeod, Wills Points; J.C. Mathews, San Augustine; A.W. Meredith, Wills Point; Jeremiah P. O’Brien, Call; J.W. Shaw, Lufkin; Samuel M. Raney, Mt. Vernon; Thomas Evans Riddle, Wichita Falls; Samuel L. Tumbleson, Montague; Walter W. Williams, Franklin; J.H. Whitsett, Bonham; W.N. Whitton, Timpson.
While for all of those men lived for a very long life, for two of them, the veracity of their assertion as having served the South proved to be a non-starter.
When Williams died in Houston on Dec. 19, 1959, it was initially claimed that he had been the longest living rebel. Unfortunately, research revealed he was younger than he had claimed when he first applied for his pension in 1932.
The ugly truth was that he and fellow Texan Riddle had misrepresented their age in the interest of collecting a pension for services apparently not rendered.
That said, the other Texas residents receiving state pensions in 1946 are believed to have been truthful in their claims of Confederate service. Elsewhere in the nation, however, 10 other rebel last man pretenders were outed by subsequent research.
All of them had indeed been alive during the Civil War, but too young to have worn a butternut gray uniform.
Even so, while the work of historians exposed fraud for which there could be no earthly prosecution, some men who had at least been alive during the Civil War had lived not only through part of the Cold War, they had made it to the near dawn of the Space Age.
Another example of how long a transition can last can be found in state payroll records.
On Sept. 11, 1862 — during the second year of the Civil War — one William Sydney Porter was born in North Carolina. Porter came to Texas in 1884, working for a time on a ranch near Cotulla. From there he moved to the capital city, where he eventually landed a job as a draftsman for the General Land Office.
Before taking the state job, he had worked for an Austin bank. Questionable bookkeeping eventually landed him in federal prison, where he seriously took up a longtime interest — short story writing.
By the time of his death in 1910, Porter had become far better known by his pen name than his real name: O. Henry.
But real endings take longer: In 1946, R.B. Newcome, the first person hired after Porter resigned his position at the Land Office, still remained on the state payroll. Since Jan. 22, 1891, he had been employed as an abstractor for the Land Office. He had gone to work the day after Porter’s resignation date and knew many of the people O. Henry had worked with.
Newcome is long dead, of course, but O. Henry’s short stories remain in print. Time is fleet. Or is it?
An award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction books, Mike Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters. A long-time freelance writer
and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley in the Hill Country.