It is a long way across Texas any way you slice it, so whether you are heading north-to-south, east-to-west or any other direction there is a lot of time to ponder the landscape and the people. Many years ago my good friend Leon Metz, so well known for his books about John Selman and John Wesley Hardin, wrote a guide to Texas, “Roadside History of Texas.” That book is still a good general guide to the Lone Star State.
“History Ahead: Stories beyond the Texas Roadside Markers,” just released from Texas A&M University Press written by Dan K. Utley and Cynthia J. Beeman fills in any gaps you might have after reading Leon’s “Roadside History of Texas.”
There is good solid history in “History Ahead,” such as how towns became “Capitals” Danevang the Danish Capital; Dublin the Irish Capital, Navasota the Blue Capital and West — the town in the news this week because of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant — as the Czech Capital.
There are stories of people with Texas roots, like Janis Joplin who grew up in Port Arthur and went on to make her mark on musical history of our country and the architect Henry C. Trost of El Paso.
But more stories relate to historical markers, monuments and places that are interesting even if you only visit them while sitting in your armchair and reading about them, or if you set off on some adventures of your own exploring this big, very, very big, Western state.
The sites you visit could be the Espada aqueduct in San Antonio, the marker for the Confederate Texas Legislatures in Austin, or the three graves of Judge R.E.B. Baylor. There are stories and photographs in the book of these and other locations.
If you wish to read a more detailed account of a Texas personality, pick up a copy of “‘Pidge’ Texas Ranger” by Chuck Parsons. There have been a number of biographies about the Texas Rangers in recent years. This account deals with Thomas C. “Pidge” Robinson, a member of Leander McNelly’s Rangers. He was involved in some of the Ranger’s most well-known exploits including pursuing the outlaw John Wesley Hardin, taking a role in the Taylor-Sutton Feud and fighting in border skirmishes.
What sets this Ranger biography apart is the inclusion of so many of Pidge’s own writings, including poetry and letters, such as one he wrote to the Daily Democratic Statesman in Austin in 1874 about “a stroll to the Lunatic Asylum.” But there are far more letters and even poems related to the work and travels of the Rangers.
As he wrote to the Daily State Gazette in March 1876, “Like Joaquin Miller’s Pilgrims of the Plains, we have been out here in the desert until we have ...”
Learned to read the signs of storms,
The Moon’s wide circles, sunset bars.
And storm-provoking blood and flame:
And like the Chaledan shepherds came
At night to name the moving stars:
And in the heavens, pictured forms
Of beasts and fishes of the sea;
And marked the great bear wearily
Rise up and drag his clinking chain
Of stars around the starry main.
Both of these new Texas books are interesting accounts that will give you a much better idea of the depth and breadth of the state. ❖