On this day in 1939, the first section of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative’s many miles of transmission lines was energized at Bertram in Burnet County, and the first of several thousand rural Hill Country families received electricity. During the 1930s farmers and ranchers across the Lone Star State banded together to form nonprofit electric cooperatives to apply for funds from the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). With money from the REA, they constructed their own power lines and repaid the loans from sales of electricity. The Pedernales Electric Cooperative included a network that spanned parts of Blanco, Burnet, Gillespie, Hays, Kendall, Llano, and Mason counties. Their initial REA loan of over $1.3 million for more than 1,700 miles of electric lines was the most money and longest mileage ever granted in a single approval, but the effort brought modern conveniences to thousands of thankful folks.
On this day in 1866, Myra Maybelle (or Belle) Shirley, better known as Belle Starr, married outlaw Jim Reed. Reed eventually became involved with the Younger, James, and Starr gangs, which killed and looted throughout Texas, Arkansas, and Indian Territory. Accounts differ as to Belle Reed's participation in these activities. At least one claims that she disapproved of Reed's actions; more suggest that she operated a livery barn in Dallas where she sold the horses Reed stole. Jim Reed was killed by a deputy sheriff at Paris, Texas, in August 1874; Belle went on to other husbands, lovers, and crimes until she was gunned down herself in 1889.
On this day in 1898, blues singer Sippie Wallace was born in Houston. Beulah Thomas Wallace was part of a large and musically talented family; her older brother George W. Thomas, Jr., was a pianist, songwriter, and publisher, and her younger brother Hersal was a jazz piano prodigy who died in his mid-twenties. In 1916 Sippie moved to New Orleans to work with George; there she met such jazz pioneers as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and King Oliver. In 1923 she moved to Chicago, where she made her recording debut on the Okeh label; three months later, she was a star with a national reputation. Her songs, such as the classics "Mighty Tight Woman" and "Woman Be Wise," spoke with earthy directness about love and relationships. After her brother Hersal and her husband both died in 1936, however, Wallace moved to Detroit and gave up blues in favor of gospel music. Victoria R. Spivey, another Texas artist, persuaded her to return to performing in the 1960s. The "tough-minded" lyrics of some of Wallace's songs transcended the blues era in which they were written and appealed to younger audiences, including most notably the singer Bonnie Raitt, who in the 1970s and 1980s almost singlehandedly revived the older woman's career. Wallace's 1983 comeback album, Sippie, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and in 1985 she made her first appearance in Texas in more than sixty years. Coincidentally, she died in Detroit on her eighty-eighth birthday, November 1, 1986.