Native Son – October, 2007

I got a wild hair the other day and decided to go out and have lunch at the Smokestack Restaurant in little ole Thurber, Texas. Now most folks get to Thurber the easy way (down I-20), but since I’ve never been smart like that, I took the scenic route through Cool, Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto, Strawn and one or two other places I can’t recall at the moment. Beautiful drive, and I even took a few minutes to stop and check out the cliffs at Mineral Wells State Park. Seemed a little hot for a canoe ride, so I hit the road and poked onward ’till I hit Thurber.

For those who don’t know, Thurber is a town that went from beans to boom to bust in about 50 years (1886 to 1933). Sixty years later, the only remnants of the boomtown (population 10,000 in its heyday) were a few crumbling buildings and a big smokestack and a road sign that announced a population of 8. One building is now a nice little destination not only for tasty food and friendly service, but for the photos on the walls that prove the meadow across the street was once a crowded maze of tiny wooden houses full of coal miners, brick makers, fortune hunters and three-legged dogs.

After lunch, I got back to pokin’ down the road, fully appreciating the rarity of green meadows at the end of August in North Texas. The snow on the prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) was magnificent with its green-and-white-striped “flowers.” This little beauty and its beefier big brother, snow on the mountain (E. marginata), have a VERY famous relative — poinsettia (E. pulchella).

Anywho, across the meadow and down in a shady little draw where a small creek flowed, I spotted another one of my favorite native Texas plants — pokeberry. Now pokeberry has lots of names — poke, pokeweed, inkberry, and, of course, poke salat or poke sallet. (Yes, that song you’re thinking of was called “Poke Salat Annie.”) Poke is also toxic, especially the roots, but that doesn’t stop some folks from triple boiling the young leaves and calling it dinner. Personally, I don’t want to nibble on anything that needs radical detoxing.

Aside from all that, what I really love about the plant is that it changes so much in the eyes of the beholder. It goes from an awkward-looking, gangly forb to a nine foot tall resplendent beauty in just a few months. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve had lots of people advise me in June that I had a “nasty weed” growing in the garden, only to have the very same people literally beg me in August to reveal the name of the “beautiful, red-stemmed plant with the incredible purple berries.”

Funny how a little time can change things, like Pokeberry, and Thurber, which is now a quaint community on the rise again, complete with the W. K. Gordon Center of Industrial History of Texas museum, two restaurants, and booming population of about 35. I love being alive now to see it grow again, from a forgotten little ghost town into a place where history is a passion and hospitality is not just a business practice, but a genuine way of life.

As is my tradition, you are welcome to join Toby and me at Chandor Gardens in Weatherford to plant a tree on Sept. 11 at noon, to honor all the people who have sacrificed life and limb so that we may enjoy the privilege of living in a free society.

Fall classes at Chandor Gardens ! Go check it out at or call 817-257-7132 for details.

Come see us at Chandor Gardens; 711 West Lee Avenue, Weatherford, Texas. From the Metroplex; I-20 (or I-30-they merge) west to exit 409 (Santa Fe); turn right and go 2.1 miles to Lee Avenue; turn left and go straight 12 blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-613-1700 or go to for more information. Let us know you’re coming and we’ll roll out the red carpet.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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