Texana Book Reviews -- April 1996
(by Mike Cox)

Texana -- A Core Reading List
(April 26, 1996)

Any of us who have been around these parts for a while -- that sounds appropriately parochial, doesn't it? -- knows that a lot of folks are moving to Texas.

"My wife and I are new Texans," a Round Rock man wrote earlier this year. They are very interested in Texas history, he said, and would like a suggested reading list.

First of all, glad you asked. People with an interest in their new home make better neighbors than someone who views living in Texas as simply the result of another transfer.

I've listed what I consider the core books for understanding Texas several times over the last 14 years, and each time the list has changed somewhat. Here's my brand new 1996 opinion, open to debate and always subject to recall:

Unchanged is my conviction that T. R. Fehrenbach's "Lone Star, A History of Texas and the Texans" remains the single best general book for completeness and readability. Texas' story is, as this book's cover declares, one of "armed migration, of conquest, corruption, despair, vast dreams and folly." First published in 1969, Fehrenbach's 761-page book remains in print through Crown Publishers, Inc. It is indexed and has an annotated bibliography. If for some reason you can't find a copy to buy, any library in Texas should have the book.

New to my list are two books by historian David McComb: "Texas: A Modern History" published by the University of Texas Press in 1989 ($xx.xx, 198 pages) and his just published "Texas: An Illustrated History." (Oxford University Press, $21.95, 144 pages.)

Another indispensable Texas book is issued every two years, "The Texas Almanac." Published by The Dallas Morning News since 1857 (with a few lapses over the years), the 1996-1997 issue sells for $12.95 in softcover. "The Texas Almanac" is the best source for basic information on Texas, from the population of McMullen County (850; county seat: Tilden) to a list of destructive Texas storms. Also included are county maps, government officials, election results, crime statistics -- virtually anything a person would want to know about Texas.

One excellent source on Texas is available free from the Texas Department of Transportation -- the "Texas State Travel Guide." This 272-page softcover book, produced annually by the Travel and Information Division of TXDOT, would be a bargain even if they charged for it. The book provides basic information on most Texas cities of any size or interest and what to do there.

Also listed in the book are Texas' parks, lakes, forests, rocks and minerals, flowers, birds, climate, and hunting and fishing seasons. (Copies can be ordered by writing TXDOT Travel and Information Division, 1101 E. Anderson Lane, Austin, TX, 78752 or called 1-800-452-9292.)

Available this summer from the Texas State Historical Association will be the new "Handbook of Texas," a six-volume encyclopedia of Texas history. The set will sell for $395. This new edition will replace a classic source of information first published as a two volume set in 1953. A third volume was brought out in 1976. The forthcoming set, with all new material, will make the first set obsolete.

Now more than 20 years old, but still valuable for being able to offer a visual sense of Texas history is William C. Pool's "A Historical Atlas of Texas." The 190-page book is a collection of maps and text which covers everything from Texas' geological formations to the locations of its colleges and universities. The book is no longer available in stores, but it should be in most libraries.

Finally, any serious student of Texas history should have a copy of the late John H. Jenkins' "Basic Texas Books." This book, available for $xx.xx from the Texas State Historical Association, lists 224 books Jenkins considered essential for any Texas collection. A lot of the books Jenkins listed are out of print, but the larger libraries with Texana collections will have most of them.

Read this book and the books listed in it and you'll be ready to start your own list.

The Legacy of J. Evetts Haley
(April 19, 1996)

A couple of records may well have been set in Midland last week.

Possible Record No. 1: One edition of a book going out of print the day of its publication.

Possible Record No. 2: The largest mass book signing in Texas history.

These possible records were set at the Nita Stewart Haley Library with the publication of "J. Evetts Haley: The Legacy," edited by Evetts Haley Jr. The 126-page softcover book is available from the Haley Library and sells for $30.

Work on the book began last fall shortly after the death of historian-writer-rancher Haley at 94. His son decided to publish the various eulogies offered at his father's funeral and add essays by those who knew him -- family, friends, other writers, former employees and others.

A hardback edition of this book, limited to 150 copies, was sold out last Friday on the date of its publication, possible record number one. And on hand to sign copies of the book were most of those who provided essays for it, more than a score of authors, possible record number two.

The limited edition of the book sold out on the first day of its availability because Haley is one of Texas' best regarded and most highly collected authors. Fortunately for collectors, he was prolific and always happy to autograph one of his works.

The book understandably is heavy on sentiment, but it is not saccharine. The essays contain an assortment of Haley anecdotes ranging from striking to humorous.

When the conservative Haley ran for governor in 1956, for example, he had occasion to be in Duval County in South Texas, home of then political boss George Parr. Haley went to Parr's office and confronted the so-called Duke of Duval: "Mr. Parr, I'm J. Evetts Haley, and I'm running for governor of Texas. If I'm elected, it will be my pleasure to lock you up."

Parr looked at the wiry West Texan and said, "Yes, Mr. Haley, I believe you would." Haley then turned around and walked out of Parr's office.

Fortunately for Parr, the voters of Texas felt Haley was a better historian than politician. He was soundly defeated.

As is the case with all good anecdotes, there are lessons to be learned in reading this book. Haley, the essays show, was fiercely loyal to family, friends and principle. He was a hard worker with strong self-discipline, once dictating 52 letters in only a couple of hours.

Published for the first time in the book is a letter Haley wrote to his wife and son shortly after a doctor told him he was suffering from hardening of the arteries. He was 51 and feared his life was about finished. The letter was to be opened on his death. His friends would know, Haley wrote, "what a joyous and adventurous thing life always was for me."

"J. Evetts Haley: The Legacy" is a book occasioned by death, but it has a lot to say about life and how one man lived it very well.

Indian Papers of Texas and the Southwest
(April 12, 1996)

On May 29, 1838, in the City of Houston, representatives of the Republic of Texas signed a treaty of "peace and amity" with the Comanches.

Signed with an "X" by three Comanche chiefs, Muguara, Muestyah and Muhy, the treaty included 11 articles.

The Indians agreed to "bring to just punishment" anyone in their tribe who might commit a depredation upon the property of or injure any citizen of the young Republic.

The Comanche signatories agreed never to make war against the Republic or its people, promised to come to the capital every October to meet with the President and that "Pease is never to die between the parties that make this agreement."

Unfortunately, peace between the Comanches and the Republic of Texas did die, as did a lot of people, both Indians and citizens of the Republic.

In fact, Texans were still fighting the Comanche nearly 40 years later.

The shattered treaty, which given the nature of Comanche culture and Anglo expansionist intentions never had a chance, is document number 27 in "The Indian Papers of Texas and the Southwest, 1825-1916," a collection of all the surviving official documents pertaining to Texas' dealings with the original inhabitants of the place named after the Indian word for friend, tejas.

The papers, edited by Dorman Winfrey and James Day, were first published by the Texas State Library between 1959 and 1961 in four volumes. In 1966, the papers were reissued by the late Austin bookman John H. Jenkins' Pemberton Press, with an added volume containing 276 additional letters from 1846-1859.

Both of these sets have long been out of print and highly sought by serious collectors and scholars, since they constitute primary source material for the study of Indian-Texian relations. In 1983, Jenkins proclaimed the "Indian Papers of Texas and the Southwest" as one of the 224 basic Texas books he considered essential for any library of Texana.

Now, happily, the collection is back in print, republished by the Texas State Historical Association. The five volume set is available from the Association for $85.

In addition to its wealth of fascinating documents, which range from routine receipts to detailed reports on Indian fights, the Association added a new introduction to the set, an essay on "Indian-White Relations in Texas, 1821-1875" by Michael L. Tate, a University of Nebraska professor. This makes the set even more useful, since it helps the reader place the documents that follow in better perspective. The papers also are indexed.

In all, the set contains 1,614 documents in 2,031 pages.

Winfrey, who was director of the state library when the set was first published, recalled recently that the project was founded by a line item in the library's legislative appropriation.

"I don't remember the amount, but it wasn't much," he chuckled. "The papers got the library a lot of favorable recognition and sold out pretty quick."

W. W. Newcomb, longtime director of the Texas Memorial Museum and one of Texas' foremost Indian scholars, later offered this assessment of the Texas Indian Papers: "They are so valuable to the researcher, save him so much time, and are generally so well edited that I almost wept with joy when I first heard they were to be published."

Memories of a Black Sharecropper
(April 5, 1996)

Looking for some words to live by? Try these.

"If you all way had a bad time you don't no how to appreciate good time, and if you all way had a good time you certain won't be able to handle a bad time." (Eds: All CQ)

Most memoirs are written by people with a story to tell. The other normal ingredient is time to write. If the story is good, or if the author is a celebrity, some publisher will pay to bring it out. If the story is not adjudged commercial enough, a memoirist probably will end up self-publishing or placing the manuscript on the shelf for posterity.

Not surprisingly, most of the memoirs written by Texans were by white Texans. They had the time and the money, but they did not have all the stories.

Memoirs by blacks, while exceedingly rare, usually have a powerful story to tell. That is certainly the case with one of the most unaffected and striking Texas memoirs I've ever seen: My Remembers: A Black Sharecropper's Recollections of the Depression by Eddie "Sarge" Stimpson Jr.

With an introduction by James Byrd, this 167-page hardback was published by the University of North Texas Press. It sells for $18.95.

The first notable thing about this book, as its title suggests, is that UNT Press resisted any temptation to edit My Remembers into linguistic sterility. The title of this book is not My Recollections, as it could have been. It is written the way a black man who lived on a farm in North Texas during the Depression would be expected to write it, which is the way he talks. He also spells like he talks.

If the book world had an award for editing with the same weight of an Oscar, Byrd would be worthy of nomination. Though he had to correct punctuation for clarity, correcting Stimpson's spelling, as he explained in his introduction, would be "tampering with the spontaneity and character of the work." Amen. It would have ruined the book.

"Sarge," as most people know him, tells the story of his upbringing on a sharecropper farm just off Preston Road in then rural Collin County, in what is now an urban area, with elegant simplicity. His book captures the day-to-day life of a vanished era, from cotton picking to the supposed medicinal qualities of sheep dung, from the way funerals were conducted to hog killing, from courting to cooking.

Mules were indispensable on farms when Stimpson was growing up. He writes:

"I suppose one of the most remarkable animal this country ever seen, had, or use is the mule. It is sad to no that the very thing God put on this earth for man to make a living and build this country with were brutely used up and throwed away and made dog food, while in some country it is call a delicacy food. Whin modern equipment began to roll onto the farm field, those team of mule would began to disappear until finally there were no mule to be seen in this part of the state. I would be willing to bet that kids from thirty to thirty-five years old down, to this day and time have never seen a mule unless maby at a movie or maby a horse show or fair."

For many of Stimpson's word pictures, artist Burnice Breckenridge provided excellent black and white drawings for the book.

My Remembers is a memorable book.

Return to Lone Star Junction Home Page

Copyright © 1996