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Sunday, January 1, 2012

A bibliography of this blogosphere

An artist far ahead of her time, sculptor Elisabet Ney shook up Texans for decades, as told in Marbel Dust, one of several books I hope you will read.

My followers probably know that a great deal that I blog about is what I have read. I am a voracious reader, although I have not always been. When I was young, books were boring piles of paper between cardboard covers that were not worth the time it took to look at the pictures. Hell, some didn’t even have pictures. They were totally worthless. But something got a hold on me… as the song goes.

I eventually figured out that I could be just as smart as the next guy if I would just invest my time in reading. I chose to read just histories and biographies… true accounts… and almost never read novels or much fiction. Life was confusing enough without letting some goofy author’s slanted world view skew mine. Of course I know now that I will never be smart… the kind I wanted to be. The kind where you always win arguments and people look up to you because you know stuff. In fact I learned the more you know, the more out of sinc you are with the masses. They never like being told they are wrong, or do not know, or they need to listen... or read a certain book...

During my brief stint at preaching, an action born of devotion to a specific BOOK, and something I took quite seriously, I was routinely challenged, doubted, even insinuated to be a heretic; supposedly adding where the Apostle John had forbidden! My only defense was I did not write the book, I was only using my gift of “prophesy” as it is known in Christian circles, that is interpreting, and teaching what it said! The reaction by some of the more outspoken was to keep my challenging gleanings from the book to myself.

Be that as it may, the very fact that you are still with me here is proof that YOU are a reader. So I will share with you some of the books which have made this past year or so a profitable experience. I have read more books this year than those listed here, but these are the ones I heartily recommend. Some are rereads and some are quite new.

When I read a book, I usually read it the first time to feel out the author. I am very wary of their agendas. If after the first read I trust them, I drop my suspicious, almost belligerent filter and read it again for the life changing experience they intended. So most of these books have passed through my filter, and are GUARRANTEED to be worthwhile…

Marble Dust, by Marjory Goar: The biography of Hempstead’s most famous citizen, German born sculptor Elisabet Ney. An inside view of German aristocracy, Victorian era Hempstead, Texas, as well as the dramatic life of Texas’ greatest, if not her most controversial sculptor.

The Alabama – Coushatta Indians, by Jonathan B. Hook. A great study of these fascinating people, and their long relationship with the people of Texas. Although the author never quite provides answers to great and fascinating mysteries about this tribe, he faithfully tells their story from their own perspective.

Spanish Adventure Trails by Ballard and Beals: Eight tumultuous adventures of the Spanish Conquistadores. The most engaging is the one about Cabeza De Vaca, but all together they give a great overview about the Spanish conquering of the American West; Chapters on Columbus, Cortez and Coronado. I thought I knew these men and their travels, but this Junior High reader has become one of my favorite refreshers. What is important about this book, to me, is how it explains how the personal faith of each of these men worked in their favor… The organized religion of the time may have gone awry, and Catholic ambitions blurred with the Spanish lust for gold, but many of the soldiers who put boots on the ground, who endured terrible hardships and deprivations for their homeland were quite noble and inspiring as they wandered all over the southwest.

No Quittin’ Sense by Rev. C. C. White. Thank you Sherry Humphries for loaning me this treasure. A tender, heartbreaking, inspiring biography about a black preacher who grew up in the below-poverty Jim Crow- East Texas cotton fields, who over time became a most revered philanthropist in Jacksonville, Texas. The tales of his loves and tragedies and ultimate Civil Rights victories should be required reading in our public schools, sure to inspire children, and yes, adults of every race and culture. A triumph of love and persistence.

Galveston- a History of the Island by Gary Cartwright: I inherited a signed copy from my father, and I’m so glad I did not pitch it to the garage sale pile; A thorough, winsome, even Michneresque dissection of one of the oldest and most important cities in Texas history. Galveston is Texas’ closet and it is full of skeletons.

From the Karankawa Indians who summered there to the pirate Jean Lafitte, to the Civil War Battle of Galveston to the battle between the Moody’s and the Kempners, this book gives every reader the best understanding to date as to why the 1900 Storm, which drowned 6000 Islanders, was not the only crippling disaster this coastal badland had to endure and overcome. This one colorful city was the home to many outrageous characters who gave Texas its bluff, and great stuff of legends; Samuel May Williams, the man who financed the Texas Republic, black boxer Jack Johnson, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder, food entrepreneur Gail Borden, underworld kingpin Sam Maceo… After reading this, you’ll either be drawn to the Island like a wharf rat, or so repulsed you will never want to go there again. Rich, fun and worth the read.

Bellaire’s Own Historical Cookbook, by Gay and Hawks. Much more than a cookbook, an illustrated history of a tiny suburb of Houston that would not be swallowed up, and the history within explains how and why. And the food sounds scrumptious!

Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America. By Cabeza De Vaca: a painful, engaging diary of the man who saw much of virgin Texas, perhaps more than any other single man, even up to this day. Fascinating descriptions of the native peoples, their traditions and habits, and the pathetic condition he and his men found themselves after being shipwrecked on the coast. They were reduced from hundreds to a half dozen, wandering naked, hungry, desperate, from village to village, yet nearly worshipped for their abilities to heal the natives of almost everything; Incredible journey, incredibly true! Little did we know, De Vaca eventually returned to Spain… in shame… only to be thrown into prison for years… until he was released to go through similar trials in South America! What lessons about politics, faith, and human endurance!

Famous Firearms of the Old West by Hal Herring: Met the author one day in Blues Alley, while he was here working on his next book. Small, quickly read, but loaded with concise, insightful studies of the most famous gunmen of the West and their guns, with much material I have never read anywhere else. Special details about Pancho Villa, Tom Horn, Geronimo, Buffalo Bill, Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, and much more; As I said in my review of the book, it is the kind of honey hole that would give anyone the upper hand in campfire discussions where you want to trump everybody with your superior knowledge of Western lore. Obviously then, for me, essential reading.

The Battle for Pusan by Addison Terry: This engaging book, a National treasure in my mind, was written by the husband of one of my painting partners from Washington County. I never cared to read anything about the “forgotten war”… the Korean war, and then I met Rebecca and her husband “Ad,” and never knew he had written such a thing until years had passed, and I talked of my own attempts at writing.

Little does anyone around here know that his book has become considered one of the most accurate and important books about the Korean War. And here is part of the reason why: He wrote it right after the war, while recovering from wounds in battle. Still fresh in his memory, he gives detailed descriptions of pivotal battles from early in the war, where he obediently served his country with cunning and valor, and rare talent for artillary.

It is a firsthand account of how a bright kid with field glasses and basic mathematical training could crawl out beyond the front, numerous times, and call in artillery strikes with deadly effect. Terry did it over and over until he was shot up in the process, leaving the carnage and terror behind forever. He wrote the story and then misplaced it, for around FIFTY years, and then submitted it for publishing… probably too late for him to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, but in time to live to see his story published in many languages and praised by military enthusiasts all over the world.

My Life on the Plains by General George Armstrong Custer: Here is one of those great examples of that literary filter I was speaking of. I read this book while doing research on an old tintype I acquired, ready to despise Custer all the more after the read. Then I had to read it again! Then I had to read his wife’s even more insightful book about the same period. General Custer caught me off guard.

After the War Between the States, he and his sporting wife travelled by wagon from Louisiana to Hempstead where they began an earnest love affair with all things Texas. Custer tells of his fond adventures in Texas and beyond, long before his fatal mistakes while fighting the Sioux. Custer loved dogs. He loved horses. He loved to ride and he loved the out of doors. So obviously, Texans loved him, and in spite of all the bad blood because of the war, he still managed to gain their respect and left with many friends and treasured gifts. Don’t read this if you just have to hate Yankees, and Indian fighters, because it will turn your whole simple world upside down.

Tenting on the Plains by Elizabeth Custer: Long poo- pooed by historians as defensive and self- serving, Libby Custer’s passionate accounts of her adventures with her famous husband were left to rot on library shelves because her husband became a sort of American Scapegoat. But between the lines of her shameless husband-worship are precious details about their travels, things a general would never mention, that make the two an endearing military couple, on the frontier adventure of a lifetime.

Libby tells of Custer’s lovable boyish nature, his frequent hunts with Hempstead planters, relishing the Texas lifestyle where still unreconstructed Texas was known to be heaven for men and dogs; Blowing incessantly on a cow horn to call his hunting dogs into action, fighting off alligators, Texas winds and homeless urchins, tearfully visiting with the deaf and blind, the Custers have won a place in my hard Texas heart.

The Mexican Kickapoo Indians by Felipe and Dolores Latorre: The Latorres moved into the last bastion of Native American tradition, hidden away in Old Mexico, quite unaware of the chasm of cultural differences they would so artfully uncover, which give us a long overdue view inside the un-Americanized Native American mind. Who knew there were displaced Indians, long since expunged from the Great Lakes region, who found refuge in Mexico after all relations with Texans had come to bloody results and distrust, and these unconquered Native Americans would hold on to their traditions perhaps more fiercely than their kinsmen on the Reservation in Oklahoma.

A great story on several levels… Academics verses primal instincts, warring perspectives on history, ethnology, psychology… the Latorre’s loving patience and diligence, the Kickapoo’s fierce independence and suspicion, the Mexican’s pragmatism, the American’s hardness and ambivalence; Everyone grows with this book, which certainly should be a treasure to every Native American, as a glimpse into their world as it was.

Lt. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir by Charles Gatewood: If you have not seen the movie Geronimo, go watch it first, but the movie barely does justice to this American hero, who helped bring Geronimo out of Mexico into Federal custody.. alive; Something short of a miracle. Gatewood was truly the Indian’s trusted friend, and the movie shows that, but it cannot tell the whole story; An Army Lieutenant caught between his orders and the love of a primitive people who looked to him for advice. As Jesus said, a man cannot serve two masters. Gatewood followed his heart, and was a man of integrity and principle, but the sad fact was he was undermined and betrayed at many levels inside the U. S. Army, infested with jealousy and corruption, who ultimately sent him off to Colorado, where again he served with distinction, actually peacekeeping during the Johnson County War!

He was finally vindicated, and authorities eventually recognized him for his essential service during the Apache Wars, but he never lived to see his manuscript published. It is a story, once again, of the kind of Americans we never see in the movies, who stand for something bigger than greed or gain, and who sacrifice everything for their beliefs.

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