Uncle Tex’s Wedding

Published in Saint Paul Almanac Volume 11, On A Collected Path
Widely available in stores, or https://saintpaulalmanac.org/online-store/

Tex Condon and. Mary Foley in Saint Paul, c. rgzo

Tex Condon and Mary Foley in Saint Paul, c. 1920

My elderly aunt and I disgraced ourselves in the newspaper archives up at the History Center this year, laughing and sputtering and leaning on the microfilm reader, amid disapproving looks from our fellows. We were working on family history, usually a sedate kind of inquiry, but we could hardly control our mirth . . . really, it was awful . . . when this old story rolled into view, from the St. Paul Dispatch of June 19, 1919, confirming a treasured family tale.

Headline. “Horseman Dashes into Hotel, Seizes Bridegroom”.

“A horseman last night spurred his steed through the door and into the lobby of the Foley Hotel, Seventh and Jackson Streets, while a reception in honor of Mr. and Mrs. John William Condon, married at the St. Paul Cathedral yesterday morning, was in progress.

The horseman headed his mount directly towards the bride. Her husband quickly stepped between them to shield her from the invader. Not to be outwitted, the lone rider caught Condon in his grasp, swung his horse about, and rider and victim disappeared though the door.

Men in the lobby rushed to prevent the abduction, but were forced to retreat by a volley of shots from more than fifty revolvers, grimly grasped by an equal number of horsemen waiting outside.

While the intruders held the would-be rescuers at a distance, Condon, despite his vehement protests, was tied securely to a hayrack. The vehicle, with its cortege of shooting, howling horsemen, started up the street, a source of wonder to pedestrians.”

It doesn’t matter what old pictures look like. Our ancestors are not stiffly-posed, sepia-toned, collared and bustled cardboard cutouts. Whether respectable or rascals, famous or unknown, downtrodden or doing the trodding, they were demonstrably, undeniably alive.

Nearly one hundred years ago, my great uncle John William Condon, called Tex, was married – for the first of several times – here in St. Paul, to a society girl who had just graduated from what was then called Visitation Convent, and whose father owned the downtown Foley Hotel. Uncle Tex was a cattleman working at the South St. Paul Stockyards, one of four sons in a family of Texas stockmen.

On the day before Tex’s wedding, the Dispatch described plans for a rather decorous and conventional Cathedral wedding, white peonies on the altar, bridal march from Lohengrin.   The day after the wedding, the paper carried the above front-page story, fevered in tone, above the fold, about the shenanigans at the reception. What happened?

It was Hook ‘Em Cow.

South St. Paul and its stockyards had, in 1919, a booster club, formed primarily from the stockyard cattlemen and cowboys. 500 members strong, it had a marching unit, a queen, a singing quartet, and quite a reputation. At their first appearance at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the newspaper said, “the Hook ‘Em Cow cavaliers terrified lady visitors by impromptu ring around the rosy in the streets.” Tex, a large and boisterous man, was their drum major.

It was the Hook ‘Em Cow boys who rode their horses into St. Paul, right up Concord Street to the hotel, and stole great uncle Tex from the wedding reception, “grimly grasping” their revolvers.   After the protesting groom was carried away, the Dispatch went on, there was a “careening ride around town” in the buckboard. When the new father in law bravely offered himself as hostage, the boys took that worthy gentleman to the police station, where he was locked in a cell, eventually buying the rogues off with a box of cigars.

You have to wonder what the new in-laws were thinking.

Tex went on to a long and roistering career as a cattleman and auctioneer all over the west, flying from stock show to stock show in his own plane, on the side of which was painted “Tex Condon. The Big Bull-shipper.”   He had at least two more wives. We don’t know what happened to the former Miss Foley.

When I drive up Concord Street now, I sometimes think I glimpse the Hook ‘Em Cow boys on a June afternoon, fifty strong, trotting up toward the city, hayrack rattling and at the ready, all set to do mischief at the big society wedding.

Family research comes in traces; the rest you are perfectly free to imagine. The paper says that after their eventful reception, the young couple left for the East on their honeymoon. I like to think of them settling into their seats on the train, looking out the window at a 1919 St. Paul disappearing behind them. And I like to imagine the new Mrs. Condon (so young!) gazing up at her big husband, relieved that there were, as far as she knew, no Hook ‘Em Cow boys aboard and along.