The Texas Bluebonnet
How the bluebonnet got its name. Found this story in booklet form tucked inside the pages of my Aunt Guynell Watters Kennedy books.
Unknown Author Transcribed by Georgie Gene Watters Uzzle
Because the flower has a white tip, Mexicans call it “conejo” cottontail rabbit. Some old timers called it “wolf-flower”, the belief being that the plant was predatory, like a wolf, taking nourishment from the soil. This erroneous belief gave the plant its generic name, Lupinus (lupine, or wolf). The Texas bluebonnet sometimes thrives where other plants are sparse and weak; but, instead of impoverishing the soil, through the curious nodules on its roots called “nitrogen fixers,” it actually nourishes.
Another name, common early in the present century, is “buffalo clover” – not that buffaloes ate it. Although not poisonous like the loco weed, which also belongs to the pea family and which ruins any horse or cow that eats it, the bluebonnet seems to be palatable to only goats and sheep among domestic animals. They have killed it out in many places.
Like seeds of other native plants, including grasses, those of the bluebonnet may lie dormant for a long time. They come up in the fall, through the winter the little plants grow only slightly, then in the spring, if it rains, they grow quickly. If the ground has no moisture in the fall, not many seeds sprout, they reserve themselves. If the following fall is seasonable, they will, in a bluebonnet area, come up “as thick as blossoms in paradise.” S. S. Bundy, an observant rancher in the hill country, said that when, about the time of World War I, he began raising goats and sheep on his ranch, which had been stocked mostly with cattle, bluebonnets were plentiful. But, after the goats and sheep started grazing his pastures, they became scarce, and then disappeared entirely. For eight or ten years he had not seen a flower on the ranch, until he fenced off about sixty acres for a deer park. The spring after he fenced sheep and goats out of this plot, several bluebonnet plants bloomed there, and then propagated themselves. Some seeds had probably come up each year, the plants always eaten down before they could bloom. But over all those years a few seeds had kept themselves in reserve.
The name bluebonnet goes back to the days when women folk wore sunbonnets. Each single flower on a spike of many flowers resembles that style of headdress. In 1901 the bluebonnet was by legislative action adopted as the state flower of Texas. The cotton bloom was a close contender, and John Garner, later known as Cactus Jack, a member of the legislature at the time, urged the adoption of the prickly pear.
A few years later Julian Onderdonk, of San Antonio, expressed the beauty of the flower with his painting of a bluebonnet field “Nature follows art.” Texans have become increasingly conscious of the beauty, the fragrance, when seen in mass the power of their bluebonnets. Seizing upon the flower’s popularity, every dauber in the country tries his hand at painting it, and bluebonnet chromos are as plentiful as cowboy figures on pulp magazine covers. Of the lupines, there are scores of varieties over the Americas, some large, some small, but none so winsome in its intense, yet soft, color as the bluebonnets, and no other so “takes the winds of March with beauty.” What else in the world can be like passing a field of bluebonnets in a spring night and sensing them only by the smell!
Despite sentimentality, one legend about the bluebonnets is worthy of survival. A great drought was on the country, it had been a spring of dust, a summer of parching heat, a fall with no color in the leaves, and grass turned to dust leading into a winter of cold and starvation for man and beast. Now spring was coming and still no rain.
At last the Chief of All Spirits was heard through the medicine men that the tribe must make a burnt offering of their most valued possession, and the ashes of this offering must be scattered to the four cardinal points of the earth, to the north and the east, and the south and the west. Darkness was upon the world when the people heard the message. On the outer rim of the assembly was a little girl who held a doll of fashion of bleached buckskin, it simulated the figure of a warrior. The doll was the most valued possession the little girl owned. Its war bonnet was made from the blue feathers of the crested bird that cries “Jay, jay, jay.” No mother could have loved the child of her own flesh more fiercely than this little Indian girl loved her bluebonnet doll warrior. Heavy indeed was her heart, as she listened to the medicine men speak of the sacrifice that was needed by each person in the tribe. She realized that her only most prized possession was her warrior doll and she must throw it in the flames. She prayed that her possession would be enough for the Chief of All Spirits. She asked the Spirits to send her a sign, as the darkness of night gave in to the light of dawn she saw a dark blue color near the lake. Then the color grew intense as indigo and as the dawn rushed into day she saw a flower. The flower grew into a bed of bluebonnets with the sweet fragrance they produce filling the air.
The little girl woke her mother and told her of her sacrifice and showed her the flowers. Then all the tribe came to see the miracle, they all knew that there could be no doubt that it was a sign. That very day soft warm rain soaked the ground. The trees and bushes began to burst forth with green leaves and the prairies grew gay with flowers. Birds sang and built their nests. Up until this time the little girl had no real name. Now she was named “One-Who-Dearly-Loves-Her-People. Every day, often for many hours, she watched the blue flowers that had come in exchange for the wonderful warrior doll of the blue war bonnet. She saw the flowers develop into pod seeds and the green of the stalks turn brown. In time she saw the dried seedpods twist and with a little crack open and shoot out their seed.
The next spring the lake of blue was far wider. Winds, rain, water and birds carried the seeds to places far beyond where the pods could pop them. Year by year the range of the bluebonnets extended, its blueness mixing with the red and pink of wild phloxes and the orange and rose of Indian paintbrushes. In time nature planted the seeds over hills and valleys, until each spring we see them next to lanes, and highways covering the pasture slopes all along the Texas landscape.