Pronghorn, Chapter 11: Local History (II)

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

The major business of Pronghorn has been honey production since the Smithersons established themselves in the area, and Pronghorn Honey has been perhaps the major employer in town throughout the town’s existence. But the Smithersons, having been apiarists for generations, were well attuned to the secondary industries that could arise from their primary vocation. Wax was the first of them, and early in Pronghorn’s development, the Smithersons made themselves useful to the already-placed Zapatas and Hochstedlers through providing it alongside the honey. A chandlery soon emerged as another business in the burgeoning town, and its history in the town serves as something of a bellwether for the economy of Pronghorn as a whole.

Early in town history, candles were the primary indoor light source for homes in the area, as shipping lanterns and their oil into town was deemed too expensive–and the glass kept breaking, in any event, owing to the ruggedness of the Hill Country terrain–but both wax from the Smitherson hives and tallow from the local beef were available fairly readily, and cotton for wicking could be gotten without too much trouble. As the town grew, then, the Smitherson chandlery–operated at one point by Chandler Smitherson; there is still a somewhat perverse sense of humor at work among the family–grew, perhaps even faster than the honey production in town, and the Smithersons as a whole came to control more and more of the town’s financial output.

The increasing control did cause some strain in the relationships the Smithersons had with the Zapatas and the Hochstedlers, of course, both of which families saw their relative influence diminish against it (although, with more and more kin among the Smithersons, they were not wholly displeased). It is perhaps traceable to that strain that the Smitherson Chandlery was burned one night in the early 1900s. A bucket brigade was formed in short order, of course, and enough people were nearby that they could draw water straight up from Pronghorn Creek. But there is only so quickly a bucket brigade can work, and the Chandlery was lost. It was not the only building affected, either; typically dry Hill Country weather and the stiff wind of an incoming front conspired to send sparks over to the Hochstedler Saloon, which burned rapidly–as would be expected of a place filled with alcohol. It was fortunate, then, that the front drove rain with it, and the ensuing sudden thunderstorm drenched the flames still live and soaked the town such that no others could catch.

The Chandlery was rebuilt reasonably quickly; the Smithersons had been thrifty folks and had saved much of their money in the town bank. (They also helped underwrite the reconstruction of the Hochstedler Saloon, with obvious consequences.) The second construction made more use of the local limestone than had the first, and the building soon resumed its earlier level of production. Production improved when water services began to be installed, and it changed focus when the Great War broke out and many of the town’s young men shipped out to fight in Europe. When they returned and began to call for the kinds of improvements they had seen–albeit in damaged form–overseas, the Chandlery helped to underwrite many of them–again, with obvious consequences.

In the wake of the Great Depression, however, and the beginning of the work of the Rural Electrification Administration, the Chandlery experienced a marked downturn. The Depression itself affected almost all businesses and industries, although the agricultural production of the town itself and the wisdom of the preeminent families ensured that few if any of Pronghorn’s residents went hungry; too, ranches almost always can use more hands to tend the herds–and the goats raised in the area benefited from additional attention, as well. Electrification, however, in offering a safer source of light than open flames, did much to reduce the call for candles–and so for the Chandlery’s services. (Federal authorities prevented the outright assumption of power over the power supply by the Smithersons, and when they–along with the Zapatas and Hochstedlers–attempted to establish themselves as the controllers of the public utility board, one federal agent interdicted the attempt. Courts supported the interdiction, and it was long before the Pronghorn utility commission was free from direct federal oversight.)

Production increased again during World War II, with some candles being sent overseas to support the war effort, and others being used to ease burdens on the electrical grid so that other areas, more vital to the production of materiel and the training of troops–San Antonio is not too far away–could be more fully powered. But it fell off once again after the war ended, and Pronghorn did not experience as much of the post-war prosperity that much of the rest of the country did. Indeed, for a time in the 1960s, the Chandlery looked as if it would close utterly; the Smithersons used it as a way to ensure that some of the less convetionally desirable cousins could find something with which to occupy themselves, which is hardly the best way to ensure the endurance of a business. The town followed suit, with many of the youth leaving for other places and not returning except for holidays and in extreme distress.

As with many small towns in Texas, it was tourism that saved Pronghorn–and that saved the Chandlery. A resurgence of interest in Western life and Texana began to drive people to the Hill Country for visits, and retirement beckoned to many, as well, and Pronghorn benefited from both. The Chandlery, where candles were still made by hand in a way passed down for centuries, found itself similarly returned to prominence as people started seeking out “more authentic experiences” and the goods that undergirded them. Honey production still remained the primary focus of the Smithersons, but the Chandlery did much to support the family coffers, as well, and proceeds from it began again to underwrite other businesses and public works projects. Its success became Pronghorn’s once again.

Did I bring you as much pleasure as a nice candle does? Could you kick in as much for me as you pay for that so I can keep doing what you like? Click here, then, and thanks!

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