Temple legends continue
Meet another Temple native who has reached great heights in numerous ways. And, 'Boots' was huge in the world of early Texas swing, but his Temple neighbors thought he was a bit loud.
SUNDAY, JULY 25, 2021
Temple-born Bernard Anthony Harris was the first black astronaut to space walk. Now he helps telemedicine companies develop new technologies.
Harris: ‘Space is our Destiny’
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple exclusive
Last week — like many Americans — former astronaut Bernard Anthony Harris watched as Jeff Bezos and his crew traveled to the edge of space and back.
“The launch was exciting,” said the Temple native, best known as the first black astronaut to walk in space. “It took me back to why I wanted to be an astronaut.”
“I wanted to help pave the way for what is happening now and what will happen in our future,” he said.
Harris said Blue Origin’s 10-minute journey truly signals a new era in space exploration.
“NASA plans to return to the moon in 2025 — that’s just four years away — work has already begun on the rocket that will take them there,” he said. “And Elon Musk’s SpaceX has plans to go to Mars.”
Although recent space travel attention has focused on private efforts, NASA is deeply involved as well, Harris said.
“I was part of a committee that studied the commercialization of space exploration, and we developed a program to help fund private space projects,” he said.
“The program provides $5 billion a year to run a competition to help private companies develop rocket ships to travel to the Space Station and beyond,” Harris said. “Space travel is expensive. Years ago, one space shuttle mission could cost as much as $350 million. The cost has increased.”
Harris said SpaceX, Blue Origin and Boeing have all received money from the NASA program.
Although Harris is best known for his historic space walk, that’s just one of his many accomplishments.
He also has been a physician, a scientist and an entrepreneur who helped pioneer telemedicine. He also is a Temple native.
“Well, I was born in Temple,” he said. “My mother was visiting family in Temple in June 1956. We were living in Houston but we were in Temple visiting my grandmother, Mary Culpepper on South 34th Street.”
“I came early,” he said with a laugh. “I was born in a private clinic on Temple’s east side. At the time, few hospitals treated black patients.”
Though his initial stay in Temple was about a week, he came back to visit relatives often. And, he became interested in medicine.
“Temple and Scott & White greatly influenced me growing up,” he said. “I knew the hospital had great doctors and many had been trained at the Mayo Clinic. I decided I wanted to do that, too.”
Eventually, the Mayo would figure prominently in his life.
After graduating from Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, Harris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology at the University of Houston and a M.D. degree at Texas Tech Medical School. He completed a residency in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in 1985.
“I was in private practice for about a year, and I had some colleagues who were involved in the space program,” Harris said. “I decided that was something I would be interested in doing.”
After a year studying bone loss in space at the National Space Aeronautics & Space Administration Ames Research Center in California, Harris trained to be a flight surgeon at the Aerospace School of Medicine in San Antonio and was hired by NASA in 1987 to research osteoporosis at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
After failing to qualify for the Astronaut Training Program in 1987, he was accepted in 1990. He has been a mission specialist on Spacelab, and in 1993 Harris flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia for 10 days.
Two years later, he served as payload commander on the first joint Russian-American Space Program mission. That’s when he made that famous space walk.
“I logged more than 438 hours and travelled more than 7.2 million miles in space,” he said.
After leaving NASA, he founded the Harris Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports math and science education as well as crime prevention for America’s youth. And, for the past 20 years he has served as CEO of Vesalius Ventures, a venture capital firm that provides funding for companies involved in telemedicine.
“We started doing that many years before COVID,” Harris said. “Now telemedicine is huge. At Vesalius, we invested in many of the companies that pioneer telemedicine and telemedicine platforms.”
According to Harris, telemedicine will be huge in the future — on Earth and beyond.
“Space is where we are destined to be,” he said. “There will never be a time in history when humans aren’t in space. Someday we will be citizens of this solar system.”
‘Boots’ struck it big in Texas swing
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple exclusive
When Clifford Douglas was growing up on Temple’s east side, the sweet sounds of music often filled his head. The neighbors, however, probably didn’t share his joy.
Clifford, later known as Boots, was born sometime around Sept., 7, 1908, and he always demonstrated a love for music. He was particularly fond of the drums, but since his family couldn’t afford a real set, young Boots built his own out of pots, pans and milk cans. The sounds that resonated from the family garage were probably anything but sweet.
According to Musical Notes, an organization dedicated to preserving the music of the early 1900s, Boots’ clanging drum skills eventually improved to the point where he performed in night spots in and around Temple.
In the late 1920s, Boots headed south to San Antonio where the Texas jazz scene was hot. After accompanying Millard McNeal’s Southern Melody Boys, Boots put together his own band and became known as the finest jazz bandleader in Texas during the early 1930s.
His band, Boots and His Buddies, toured Texas and the Southwest during the Texas swing heydays, and even played a tour in New York City, according to The Handbook of Texas. Although highly eclectic in style, the band enjoyed huge regional success.
In 1935, Bluebird Records signed the band and recorded a slew of songs between 1935 and 1938, including "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Blues of Avalon."
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” was later recorded and made famous by Louis Armstrong.
Unfortunately, when the Texas swing era ended, the band’s popularity also faded. Boots packed up and moved to the West Coast in 1950 and got a job with Los Angeles County. He continued to play but eventually the government job replaced music as his primary income.
By the 1970s, Boots disappeared into obscurity. Social Security Death Records list a Clifford Douglas who was born Sept. 7, 1908, in Texas, and died Oct. 27, 2000, in Los Angeles.
The historic Bell County Charter Oak was the site of the county’s first election.
A tale of two Nolanvilles
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple exclusive
A person heading to Nolanville using an 1850’s Bell County map likely would miss their intended target by about 10 miles and end up somewhere in Belton instead.
Why? It’s because Belton hasn’t always been Belton. I’ll explain.
Bell County was formed Jan. 22, 1850, when state lawmakers carved off a section of Milam County, according to The Handbook of Texas. The county was named in honor of Texas governor Peter Bell.
The new county was a tough land, teeming with wolves, wild turkey, bison, black bear and deer.
In response to frequent attacks by Indians that called the area home — mostly Tonkawa, Lipan Apache, Comanche and Kiowa — military operations had thinned tribal populations here significantly by the time Bell County was created.
Prominent settlements in the new county included Nolan Valley and Nolan Springs, both named after infamous Texas explorer Philip Nolan. The state selected Nolan Springs as county seat but renamed the community of about 300 people Nolanville. The name was changed a year later because residents wanted the town to stand out as the Bell County seat.
A short distance west but also along Nolan Creek was the smaller settlement of Nolan Valley — population about 46. The name of the town was accidentally changed by the government in 1878 when a post office was granted to Noland Valley. The misspelling angered townspeople, and they renamed the town Nolanville in 1883.
Back to 1850 and the forming of Bell County.
The state appointed three judges and set an election near Old Military Crossing on the Leon River. A man named William Hill had a cabin near the crossing, and since the location was convenient for those on each side of the river, the cabin was selected as the gathering spot.
A group of about 40 men stood beneath a big oak tree and laid the groundwork for the new county.
The group selected five special commissioners to lead the county and selected Nolanville (now Belton) as the county seat.
Organization of Bell County was completed Aug. 1, 1850.
Hill’s cabin has long been claimed by the Leon River, but Charter Oak still stands as a reminder of the county’s first election.
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