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Prairie Gothic

The Story of a West Texas Family

John R. Erickson

Publication Year: 2005

Prairie Gothic is rich in Texas history. It is the story of Erickson s family, ordinary people who, through strength of character, found dignity in the challenges presented by nature and human nature. It is also the story of the place instrumental in shaping their lives the flatland prairie of northwestern Texas that has gone by various names (High Plains, South Plains, Staked Plains, and Llano Estacado), as well as the rugged country on its eastern boundary, often referred to as the caprock canyonlands. One branch of Erickson’s family arrived in Texas in 1858, settling in Parker County, west of Weatherford. Another helped establish the first community on the South Plains, the Quaker colony of Estacado. They crossed paths with numerous prominent people in Texas history: Sam Houston, Sul Ross, Charles Goodnight, Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker, Jim Loving, and a famous outlaw, Tom Ross. Erickson’s research took him into the homes of well-known Texas authors, such as J. Evetts Haley and John Graves. Graves had written about the death of Erickson s great-great grandmother, Martha Sherman. The theme that runs throughout the book is that of family, of four generations’ efforts to nurture the values of civilized people: reverence of the written word, honesty, godliness, thrift, and personal relationship. It is the story of pioneer women and their struggles to keep their families together; it is the story of cowboys, outlaws, and Indian raids, told against the background of a harsh environment of droughts, blizzards, and rattlesnakes; and it is universal. Erickson has created a fascinating blend of family and regional history.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Frances B. Vick Series

Front Matter

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. x-xii

Given an assignment to compose an essay in a long-ago English course at the University of Texas, I wrote a piece about ranch life in West Texas. The teacher approved of my writing but deplored my subject matter...

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pp. xiii-xv

This is a book I tried to write many times over the years, but somehow it kept eluding me. In my first attempts I approached it as a piece of impersonal history, where I hovered above the story and simply...

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Chapter One: Anna Beth

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pp. 1-3

It was my great fortune to have been raised by a woman who loved language, told wonderful stories, and believed that passing those stories along to me was more important than doing other things for herself. That was my mother, Anna Beth Curry...

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Chapter Two: The Visit

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pp. 4-11

During the summer of 1966 I was in Austin, finishing up a few courses at the University of Texas so that I could graduate in August, and my thoughts had turned eastward. I had been...

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Chapter Three: The Quakers

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pp. 12-21

John Graves has observed that "most of West Texas accords ill with the Saxon nostalgia for cool, green, dew-wet landscapes" (John Graves 1960: 5), and any journey that begins in Austin and ends in Seminole or Lubbock provokes the...

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Chapter Four: Martha Sherman

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pp. 22-32

Mother told me stories about Joe Sherman, but he always seemed a man who occupied the shadows. He died when Mother was a small child and, for reasons that remained obscure to me until many years later, his death was shrouded in...

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Chapter Five: Cynthia Ann

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pp. 33-40

Astonished, Goodnight realized that he was looking into the eyes of an Anglo woman who had been kidnapped by the Comanches and had adopted their ways; and she was holding a bronze-faced baby that had been sired by Chief Peta Nocona...

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Chapter Six: Loose Ends

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pp. 41-46

In the summer of 1969 I drove down to Weatherford to see if I could locate Martha Sherman's grave. Grandmother Curry had told me that Sam Sherman, her nephew (the son of Forrest and Mary D Sherman), had located the grave several years before in a Weatherford cemetery. It had been unmarked, so he bought a gravestone...

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Chapter Seven: J. Evetts Haley

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pp. 47-56

In the fall of 1961 the Perryton Ranger football team played the Quanah Indians for the district championship. I was a proud member of that Ranger team, yet so ignorant of my region's history that I didn't notice the irony of this...

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Chapter Eight: John Graves

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pp. 57-63

I remember sitting on an airplane and watching the man across the aisle from me. He had oriental features and was reading a newspaper covered with Chinese characters that had no more meaning to me than chicken tracks...

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Chapter Nine: Joe Sherman

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pp. 64-79

History has cast a bright light on Cynthia Ann Parker and Martha Sherman, but has had very little to say about the two-year old boy who stood in the rain that horrible day in November 1860, watching as his father tied a rag around the scalped...

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Chapter Ten: Max Coleman Remembers

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pp. 80-84

In 1890 the Sherman family, which now included two children, Mable and Forrest, pulled up stakes and moved thirty miles west of Estacado to a ranch in Lubbock County. Mike Harter notes that "the Sherman ranch was located on Yellow House Draw where the town...

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Chapter Eleven: The Sherman Family

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pp. 85-91

Grandmother Curry remembered that in the early years of their marriage, Joe and Lina enjoyed each other's company and seemed very compatible. There was laughter in the house and Joe tried to lighten his wife's load of housework. In the mornings, he would...

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Chapter Twelve: Rachel and George Sin

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pp. 92-98

The most famous of our kinsmen was a man named George Singer, who married Lina Sherman's sister Rachel Underhill and was thus Grandmother Curry's uncle. "Famous" is a relative term, of course, and nobody in Los Angeles or New York has ever...

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Chapter Thirteen: The End of the Quaker Dream

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pp. 99-103

There was some good steel in those Quakers. I am sorry that I have never had the pleasure of meeting any of the Singers or Underhills, other than Perlina Sherman. As far as we know, they all left the High Plains sometime around 1892 when their...

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Chapter Fourteen: Gaines County

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pp. 104-108

Joe Sherman stayed on the Lubbock County ranch for fifteen years. By the mid-1890s the Texas legislature, which had allowed big ranchers like Colonel C.C. Slaughter and his sons, and smaller operators like Joe Sherman, to graze cattle on vast expanses of...

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Chapter Fifteen: Mable

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pp. 109-116

On the Sherman ranch in Gaines County, Joe struggled to find a balance between being a good provider and a good pater familias. I see him as an old warrior whose battles were over, an aging frontiersman who was trying to adjust to a sedentary existence and to...

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Chapter Sixteen: Joe Sherman's Death

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pp. 117-126

It is hard to fathom that the American frontier period extended into the twentieth century, but it did. When Buck and Mable moved into their first home in 1911, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr were working out the calculations that would dethrone...

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Chapter Seventeen: The Currys

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pp. 127-135

When I was young, it never occurred to me that my grandparents had anything less than an ideal marriage. Marriage problems, if they ever occurred (and we know they did) were not considered a subject that children or grandchildren needed...

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Chapter Eighteen: Tom Ross

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pp. 136-147

Buck Curry had his problems with rustlers, but he was fortunate that he never had to deal with Tom Ross, who had died three years before Buck took over the Jones outfit. Growing up, I heard many stories about Tom Ross from my mother, grandmother, and...

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Chapter Nineteen: Milt Good

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pp. 148-161

Decades after Tom Ross died, people in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico still had strong feelings about him. They liked him, they hated him; he was kind and he was cruel, a good man and a thief, a friend but an enemy, a devoted family man...

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Chapter Twenty: Roger Sherman

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pp. 162-166

Family legend tells that before he died, Joe Sherman called his four sons into the room and made them promise not to take revenge on Dock Billingsley or his family. "No more bloodshed. We have the law. Let it do its work." The sons honored their pledge,...

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Chapter Twenty-one: Roy, Burt, and Olive

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pp. 167-173

Roger, Forrest, and Mable were the oldest of the Sherman children and came through the ordeal of Joe Sherman's death in good shape. Roger found his calling in the ministry and raised a family in New Mexico. Mable had her home and family in Seminole,...

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Chapter Twenty-two: Decline

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pp. 174-177

In 1973 Grandmother Curry still lived in her house on Avenue E in Seminole. She was eighty-five years old and her daughters worried about her staying by herself in that big house, but any time they suggested other arrangements, they got Mable's version...

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Chapter Twenty-three: Grandmother's Funeral

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pp. 178-186

Kris and I drove down to Seminole the next day and joined some of the family at Grandmother's house. Around six, we went to the funeral home and viewed the body. The gray metal casket had been placed in a small room, and I stayed for half...

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Chapter Twenty-four: And Then There Was One

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pp. 187-189

After Grandmother Curry's death, Olive, Burt, and Roy continued living out at the Sherman ranch in a ready-built house they had moved in from Lubbock sometime in the 1950s. It was more modern and convenient than the old house,...

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Chapter Twenty-five: Afterthoughts

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pp. 190-192

Dan Flores had a low opinion of West Texas memoirs and dismissed most of them as "naive horse operas that resonate nineteenth-century ancestor worship rather than twentieth- and twenty-first century significance." (Flores 1990: 165) I have not...


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pp. 193-198


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pp. 199-208

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414004
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412000

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 48 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Frances B. Vick Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Texas, West -- Biography.
  • Rural families -- Texas, West.
  • Novelists, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Texas, West -- Social life and customs.
  • Erickson, John R., 1943- -- Homes and haunts -- Texas, West.
  • Novelists, American -- 20th century -- Family relationships.
  • Erickson, John R., 1943- -- Family.
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