MIAMI, Texas – Thanks to a landscape trick, Miami’s Panhandle city is almost invisible until you’re there.
Surrounded on all sides by amber-green hills and cattle farms, Miami is quiet. There are no bars or restaurants, though there is a small grocery store with a few laminate tables.
But there are gathering places: the echoing mechanic’s garage where people chat or consult the phone book between runs; the county’s overflowing historical museum, where women come in their afternoon quilts; the tire shop where friends in this dry county drink beer on Friday nights.
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In 2016, the city found itself in an unexpected media frenzy. Voters in Roberts County, of which Miami is the only incorporated community, voted for Donald Trump at a higher percentage than anywhere else in the country – 524 of 554 ballots cast. Media around the world descended seemingly overnight, camping in the store or cafe, which has since closed, sending dispatches to their national news agencies.
We were curious to know if the wave of attention had changed anything to daily life in the city. And there was a sense of mistrust: Biden supporters were hesitant to be interviewed, not out of fear of their neighbors, but because they feared being drawn into a negative city narrative.
Many across the political spectrum still feel burned by that early coverage, which was often sneering; ahead of the 2020 election, a British newspaper described it as “Trump Town USA” and “a place where the mere mention of Democratic rival Joe Biden is likely to get you kicked out of town by people with guns.”
Six years later, the city was welcoming to reporters — provided, of course, you weren’t there to talk about “the Trump case.”
William Jackson is skeptical of the press. The last time a TV cameraman walked into his garage, “I kind of turned off,” he recalls. “I said, ‘if the media stayed out of this, America would be so much better off.'” The cameraman, Jackson said, just turned and left. Jackson’s concern is that “they’ll take pieces and cut them out and then glue the words together, where it will make us look like rednecks.”
Jackson himself is deeply conservative, but said it didn’t affect his friendships around town. One of his close friends, who died in February, was a registered Democrat. David Stribling would leave his house every day, walk to the store, and buy whatever junk food his wife didn’t want him to eat — pecan sandies or, later, Cheetos. And then he would take them to the garage to sit in his favorite chair and eat them in secret.
After Stribling’s death, Jackson discovered a bright orange handprint on the side of the seat, which he hadn’t brought himself to remove.
“I just left it,” he said, swirling the chair around to display it. “Cheeto dust!”
Holly Jackson works at the courthouse, one of the area’s top employers, where a judge walks the halls with one of the city’s famous snow cones. Earlier in the day, she had gone to a downtown business hosting “Popcorn Friday” to pick up a bag and take it back to work. She walked past her husband William’s garage before heading back to the office, wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Raising my husband is exhausting’.
“That’s the one that matches my shirt today,” she said, pointing to William.
David Locke’s family has been in the county for over 100 years, and he is the fourth generation to tend their ranch. His son is the fifth. Locke’s truck is equipped with a siren which he uses to call the herd and a feeding machine in the back. In total, he has about 1,000 head of cattle, so part of the drudgery is to do the count in his various lots.
As he climbs into the cab of the truck, he is still thinking about a question he has just been asked: what does he think of the United States right now? It was an open-ended question that he answered in political terms, saying he was for Trump “strong” and against Biden “weak.”
When asked if he likes to follow politics, he laughs. “Yes, I watch Fox News all the time. Maybe that’s why I am the way I am.
Homecoming is in two weeks, and Abby Burkham and Rylee German have 50 more Texas moms to go. They are crouched on the floor assembling the floaty, beribboned confections they sell for the girls to wear to the dance.
Neither woman was born here, but Burkham is engaged to someone from Miami and German is married there. “It’s very welcoming in some ways,” Burkham said. “But I also think it helps to marry a local.”
They say some of the depictions of Miami in the news are reductive. In German eyes, no one is 100% democrat or republican. “I think you can say, ‘I will vote for this party because it matches the majority of what I believe,'” she said. “But just because I’m a Republican doesn’t mean I’m saying, ‘I believe you can’t make your own personal choices with your body. “”
Brad Booze has just finished tagging and vaccinating a handful of calves he rounded up with the help of his young granddaughter. He sits on his big mare, which has a bespoke bit that Booze himself created – he has a business making bits and spurs. Her 2-year-old grandson, Beck, is here too, riding under the watchful eye of other parents.
Booze’s favorite part about living in Miami, he said, is that there are “not many people.”
“Am I the oldest person in town? I think I must be,” said Barbara Wiley, known to her neighbors as Miss Barbara, seated in the historical museum. Her 100th birthday, September 30, was going to be celebrated with three different parties: a family party, a potluck and a public party at the same church where Miss Evelyn celebrated her 92nd birthday.
And it’s true that after careful consideration at the museum — “Let’s see. . . Billy Joe is 94 years old. . . Fanny Jean is 92 years old. . .” – no one can think of anyone older than Wiley.
She moved to town in the 1950s, and Miami still feels like “the same small town,” she said. “Of course we lost our coffee and things kind of seem to be going downhill. I don’t know if we’re going to bring in someone else or not.
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Lissandra Villa Huerta contributed to this report.
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