Brandon's Notepad

March 8, 2016

Where is Muriel, Texas?


Or perhaps the better question is, “Where was Muriel, Texas?”

The Back Story

I was looking at some old maps of the DFW Metroplex and was curious about what the landscape looked like before the behemoth DFW International Airport had been constructed. I was particularly interested in finding out how the roads used to connect from one side to the other, as there are now a very limited number of ways to cut through. And that’s when I saw Muriel, just a little circle bisecting an unnamed road in the middle of airport property. But where, exactly? And was anything left of it? I had to find out.

Map Analysis

To solve this mystery, I decided to employ one of my favorite map analysis techniques, the use of overlays. Basically, this means lining up the features on two different maps of an area for the purpose of comparison. When this is done using maps of different eras, it’s a form of map regression. This can be done in an analog fashion using tracing paper, transparencies, or even by simply laying one map on top of the other on a light box. The biggest problem is that the maps have to be exactly the same scale. Computers make everything easier, of course, and it’s very simple to import scans into layers using an art program and change the opacity (transparency) of one of the layers so that the other can be seen through it. For this analysis, I chose the undated “Dallas County and Tarrant County” made by the Ashburn Map company (c. early 1950s as best as I can tell) and a screen shot of Google Maps using satellite view. Here is the result:


It took a little trial-and-error, but I was able to match up enough roads to feel comfortable with the results. I focused on the neighborhood bordered by Hughes Road to the north, Watauga-Smithfield (now Glade) Road to the south, Euless-Grapvine Road to the east, and F.M. 157 (upon which S.H. 121 is built) to the west. Things don’t line up well as you move out from this location, but Fuller-Wiser Road (The ‘T’ intersection just below the word ‘SMITHFIELD’) is still in the right position, and Minter’s Chapel Road (most of which is now Airfield Drive) isn’t too far off. If the Ashburn map is accurate, this puts Muriel in the vicinity of the south end of runway 31L. Unfortunately, this leaves little chance that anything remains of this town or community in the way of buildings, though perhaps some other archaeological finds may eventually be unearthed.

Digging Deeper

Not that it would help establish the location, per se, but I did want to find some evidence that a place called Muriel did indeed exist in Tarrant County. I was able to find a couple of death certificates from 1904-1905 using that list Muriel as the place of death. It would appear that the folks at RoadsideThoughts found similar documentation.

There is hope, however, because guess what else in in the immediate area? Minter’s Chapel Cemetery! The Minter’s Chapel Methodist church was established in the 1850s, and remained in the same location (though rebuilt at least once) until the property was taken over by the new airport a little over a century later. At the time I wrote this, I have an outstanding request with the office of the descendant church for any information they may be able to share about Muriel.

UPDATE! Someone from the church responded to my phone call and in comparing notes, we discovered the following. First, she directed me to the article for Muriel in the Handbook of Texas. It confirms that Muriel and Minter’s Church (in all other cases referred to as Minter’s Chapel) are indeed one and the same. It was established in 1890 and there was a post office there from 1899 to 1905. She did mention that the 1890 census records no longer exist, so the only census that might contain information on Muriel’s residents would be the 1900 census. Second, she confirmed that the two people whose death certificates I found are indeed buried in the cemetery! James William Vine died on April 3, 1905, though his grave bears the middle name Washington, and Lula Florence Woodall (named Woodale on, probably due to a transcription error), whose maiden name was Page, died November 2, 1904.

February 17, 2015

Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History

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Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History
This is a short review of Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History, written by Patrick Hunt.

I picked up several books about archaeology at the library one day, just to get a high-level survey of the subject. This book was amongst them. I was totally in judge-by-the-cover mode that day and this one looked like an easy read. To be completely honest, I only ended up reading a few of the chapters all of the way through. Even so, I really enjoyed the parts that I did read. I agree with many of the reader reviews in that this is not (and is not intended to be) a deep study, but an introduction to archaeology through a survey of ten important finds.

I really like the format of this book! Each chapter covers a particular archaeological discovery. Keep in mind that the word discovery can be a verb as well as a noun. In other words, the chapter on the Dead Sea Scrolls doesn’t only describe the scrolls themselves, or what they contain, but how they were discovered. Sometimes the story about how an artifact was discovered is much more interesting than the artifact itself. Hunt’s style is one of storytelling and he doesn’t write using lofty language. His intent is to bring the reader closer to the point of discovery, to make the moment more real.

In my opinion, this book would serve as a great launchpad for student researchers interested in studying more about any of the ten discoveries covered. (And by student, I do not mean archaeology majors.) I also thought it served my needs well: a good read for someone just getting their feet wet.

Patrick Hunt is a lecturer at Stanford University who, by all accounts, really enjoys his work. He has reportedly suffered from broken bones, sunstroke, and other afflictions in the course of doing his research. According to his biography page, he also has a passion for composing music and writing poetry.

The discoveries discussed in the book are:

  1. Rosetta Stone (Egyptian History)
  2. Troy (Homer & Greek History)
  3. Nineveh’s Assyrian Library (Mesopotamia)
  4. King Tut’s Tomb (Egypt’ God-Kings)
  5. Machu Picchu (Inca Architecture)
  6. Pompeii (Roman Life)
  7. Dead Sea Scrolls (Biblical Research)
  8. Thera (Aegean Bronze Age)
  9. Olduvai Gorge (Human Evolution)
  10. Tomb of 10,000 Warriors (Imperial China)

A brief synopsis of each can be found in this short interview with the author.

November 22, 2013

JFK Assassination

Home > My Research > History > JFK Assassination

This post commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of United States President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It is arguably the most scrutinized political event in U.S. history. Despite the extant evidence — the films, the photos, and the testimonies of eyewitnesses some of whom are still alive — his death is still shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Personal Reflection

Most of my research posts contain factual information first and foremost, but I chose to use this post as a medium for some personal reflection. I certainly hope that it will become a springboard into more in-depth research on my part, but so much information is already available from other sources that it would not be realistic for me to attempt a holistic presentation of it in just this one post. Besides, I was not even born yet when Kennedy was killed and my family did not live in the Dallas area at that time, so I decided that I must first come to terms with what it means to me before I can even consider a serious treatment on the subject.

A Man Died

Before considering the facts and circumstances of November 22, 1963 or any of the controversies and conspiracy theories that arose from the day’s events, it is most important in my opinion to recognize that a man died, murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Dallas that day. Yes, he was the President of the United States of America, leader of the free world, but he was also God’s child from whom the Creator’s gift of life was taken, his soul ripped from his mortal body. We can talk all day about what this assassination meant to the citizens of this country, to world politics, to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, to the political machine that is Washington, the peaceful transfer of power and the continuation of the government in the face of national tragedy, but we all too often take for granted what it meant to the man himself, his soul, to his family who loved him, and to God. These are worthy points of reflection for those moments of silence we diligently observe in his honor.

Where were you?

Ne’er does a November 22nd pass that I don’t hear this question asked, even if only rhetorically. Sometimes people will answer it even though they were not asked, perhaps in response to an internal desire to reconnect with the memories of that day. “I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Jack was killed.” Again, it was before my time, but I can relate all too well. The same question crops up every January 28th and September 11th as well, and I have no problem answering it on those days. Indeed, it seems to me that the ability to answer this question positively has much to do with determining the meaning of the event in any given person’s life.

End Of The Innocence

I’ve heard (or read) it so many times that what really died that day was our country’s innocence. We may never know who first made that statement. Certainly, Don McLean’s song American Pie is an expression of that very sentiment, and in the music video for The End of the Innocence, Don Henley is filmed singing in front of the Texas School Book Depository. Kennedy’s assassination forced a lot of Americans to deal with reality, to “grow up” faster than they might have otherwise. But the observation is quite relative. Those who make this claim were not alive to see brother kill brother in our American Civil War or to hear the news of the massacre at the Alamo. They were probably not present on Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when violence erupted in the streets of downtown Dublin or in any number of European towns invaded by Nazi forces in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Events occur in every age and in every country that change the paradigm of the common man. JFK’s assassination is but one such event, and until we are separated by enough years, and the generation of those who were young when it happened are long dead and buried, it is likely to remain the most powerful.

Dealy Plaza

Elm Street is one of three streets that converge under a railroad bridge in Dealy Plaza on the west side of downtown Dallas. The first time I drove down that stretch of asphalt, I was new to Dallas and I made it all the way to the Grassy Knoll before I realized where I was. But that was not the drive that gave me chills. No, that would be the time I first noticed the little white “X” painted in the middle of the right-hand lane that marked the approximate location of the fatal head shot. The “X” was removed (possibly by accident) as the streets were prepared for the 50th Anniversary Commemoration. I did not know until today that some considered the “X” to be in bad taste, but I, for one, hope that the city will make plans to replace it. For me, it adds to the solemnity of the place in a very simple and unique way.

Conspiracy Theories

The official investigation by the Warren Commission (1964) concluded that there was no conspiracy to assassinate the President, but that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives, however, indicated in its report (1979) that a second gunman was not only a possibility, but that a conspiracy was probable. A wide-range of subsequent theories and variants have been proposed, including a government cover-up of the facts and even the accusation that Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson and the CIA orchestrated the murder as a grand coup d’etat to gain control of the Presidency. Wikipedia has a list of John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories that is fairly exhaustive. If nothing else, the multitude of theories in circulation regarding the assassination is an embarrassment in my opinion, and I strongly believe that technology will eventually resolve the inconsistencies in audio and video evidence and human testimony. We may never have solid proof as to a sure motive, but at least the facts of the case will be established, putting an end to much of the nonsense propagated by those who would like to (re)write history according to their own fantastic imaginations.

October 24, 2013

Roman Infantry Tactics

Filed under: History — Brandon @ 7:29 am
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Home > My Research > History > Military History > Roman Infantry Tactics

While researching for another post, I happened across several good pages about the tactics of ancient Roman soldiers.  This topic wasn’t really on the docket, but  decided to capture the links to the pages here and dive deeper later.

October 9, 2013

Military Operational Units

Home > My Research > History > Military History > Military Operational Units

At first glance, the names of military operational units appear to be quite arbitrary. What’s the difference between a battalion, a brigade, and a division anyway? What do these things mean? How am I supposed to know that one is bigger than another? I wrestled with these questions every time I turned the pages of a war novel or read about the successful operation conducted by this unit or that one. Finally, I decided to dig deeper, to find the rhyme and reason behind military organization.

I recall reading somewhere in military literature about the most atomic military units being comprised of two or three men and how all larger units are built using these basic building blocks. I cannot find the source now, but when I do, I will update this post. Regardless, this point inspired me to list the units beginning with the smallest and working upward, the opposite order in which they are usually listed.

The names of the units are revealing, most of which have been in use since the late 16th & early 17th centuries, and are derived from Latin or other Romantic language. Regarding the number of units that combine to form a larger unit, the magic number appears to be three. As a starting point, I began with a current list of U.S. military operational units. The etymologies of the names are based on the entries found in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Squad. This is the smallest unit. Usage originating (c. 1640s) in the Romantic languages and in Latin, it literally means “square”, denoting the formation in which the men would fight. Immediately, the Roman testudo formation comes to mind. In the U.S., the size of a squad ranges from 4 to 10 members, and is headed by a Staff Sergeant, the word sergeant meaning “servant”.

Platoon. Three squads (maybe four) comprise a platoon. The name comes from (c. 1630s) the French word peloton which refers simply to “a group of people”. A platoon is led by a Lieutenant, which means “substitute” (“in lieu of” + “tenant” which means holding, so literally, a placeholder)

Company. Three (or four) platoons comprise a company, which also refers to a “large group of people”. The word comes from (c. 1580) Old French compagnie & Latin companio. A company is led by a Captain, meaning a “leader” or “chief”, from the Latin caput which means “head”.

Just for reference, the rank of Major falls between Captain and Lt. Colonel.

Battalion. Three to five companies form a battalion. It is led by a Lieutenant Colonel. Following the general guidelines provided on the page linked above for U.S. units, the number of men in a battalion should range mathematically from 108 to 800; however, the range listed for this unit is 500 to 600. Either way, this number give some indications as to how many soldiers are needed to win a battle, since the term originates from 16th Century French/Italian and means “battle squadron”.

Three battalions form a brigade. For U.S. units, this means three-thousand to five-thousand troops. In French the word means a “body of soldiers”, but in Italian it is used in a more general sense to refer to a troop or a gang. A Colonel leads a brigade in the U.S. (or a Colonel General in some countries). This is an Italian title referring to the commander of a column (of soldiers). More traditionally (c. 1670s), the leader was a Brigadier General.

Regiment. The unit known as a regiment is defined very loosely. Its size is not specific, but varies by country and can range from a Company to a Brigade.

Division. Three brigades form a division, ten-thousand to eighteen-thousand members headed by a Major General. Though this term is very generic and part of common speech today, it was first used in military terms in the 1590s.

Corps. Two to five divisions comprise a corps, headed by a Lieutenant General. First used in English in 1704, it is shorthand for the (c. 16th C) French phrase corps d’armée. Pronunciation has varied over time, but “core” seems to be the proper and most common way to say the word in English.

Field Army. An army is two or three corps led by a General. from French (armée) and Latin (armata), it basically means “armed force”. It first applied specifically to a land-based force in 1786. In the States, citizens will immediately associate the term with the U.S. Army in general; however, the U.S. has employed multiple armies in its history (think: Patton’s Third Army).

October 8, 2013

Military History

Home > My Research > History > Military History

Despite the atrocities of war, military life continues to appeal to young men around the world. The uniforms, the weapons, the minute details of a battle or campaign, all these things capture the imagination. One cannot study history and remain ignorant of military actions, tactics, and organization. There is a lot to know about military history. This section was originally slated for My Lists page, but it became evident as I started gathering content that it really belonged under My Research.


Military Operational Units
Roman Infantry Tactics


Sun Tzu
Carl von Clausewitz
Mao Tse-Tung

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