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Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce

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Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce

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Bootlegger's Other Daughter

By Mary Cimarolli

The generation that toiled through the Great Depression and won the Second World War has become known as “the greatest generation.” But not all of them qualified for that exaggerated epithet in the eyes of their own children. In this tender but unsparing memoir, Mary Cimarolli remembers a world in which the family home was lost to foreclosure, her father made his way by bootlegging, and school was a haven to hide from her brother’s teasing. Her stories are about struggle and survival, making do and overcoming, and, ultimately, reconciliation. From her perspective as a child, she describes the cotton stamps and other programs of the New Deal, the yellow-dog Democrat politics and racism of East Texas, and the religious revivals and Old Settlers reunions that gave a break from working in the cotton patch. The colorful colloquialisms of rural East Texas that dot the manuscript help express both the traditionalism of the region and its changes under the impact of modernization, electrification, and the coming of war. Along with these regional and national trends, Cimarolli skillfully interweaves the personal: conflict between her parents, the death of her brother a few days before his sixteenth birthday, and her own inner tensions.

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Feud That Wasn't

The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas

By James M. Smallwood

Marauding outlaws, or violent rebels still bent on fighting the Civil War? For decades, the so-called “Taylor-Sutton feud” has been seen as a bloody vendetta between two opposing gangs of Texas gunfighters. However, historian James M. Smallwood here shows that what seemed to be random lawlessness can be interpreted as a pattern of rebellion by a loose confederation of desperadoes who found common cause in their hatred of the Reconstruction government in Texas. Between the 1850s and 1880, almost 200 men rode at one time or another with Creed Taylor and his family through a forty-five-county area of Texas, stealing and killing almost at will, despite heated and often violent opposition from pro-Union law enforcement officials, often led by William Sutton. From 1871 until his eventual arrest, notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin served as enforcer for the Taylors. In 1874 in the streets of Comanche, Texas, on his twenty-first birthday, Hardin and two other members of the Taylor ring gunned down Brown County Deputy Charlie Webb. This cold-blooded killing—one among many—marked the beginning of the end for the Taylor ring, and Hardin eventually went to the penitentiary as a result. The Feud That Wasn’t reinforces the interpretation that Reconstruction was actually just a continuation of the Civil War in another guise, a thesis Smallwood has advanced in other books and articles. He chronicles in vivid detail the cattle rustling, horse thieving, killing sprees, and attacks on law officials perpetrated by the loosely knit Taylor ring, drawing a composite picture of a group of anti-Reconstruction hoodlums who at various times banded together for criminal purposes. Western historians and those interested in gunfighters and lawmen will heartily enjoy this colorful and meticulously researched narrative.

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Mennonites in Texas

The Quiet in the Land

By Laura L. Camden and Susan Gaetz Duarte

With their distinctive head coverings, plain dress, and quiet, unassuming demeanor, the Mennonites are a distinctive presence within the often flamboyant and proud people of Texas. If you have seen them at a gas station, in a grocery store, or even at the Dallas–Fort Worth airport, you have probably taken note and wondered how they came to be there. In this photographic tour of two Texas Mennonite communities, separated by almost 450 miles, Laura L. Camden and Susan Gaetz Duarte introduce you to the Beachy Amish Mennonites of Lott, a small community of approximately 160 people in Central Texas, and the very different Mennonites of Seminole, a West Texas farming community of more than five thousand residents and five separate congregations, several of which still speak the Mennonite Low German. Spending more than a year getting to know the families, participating in day-to-day activities, and photographing the unique culture of the communities, Camden and Gaetz Duarte developed deep insight into not just the religious beliefs but the family relationships, role expectations, and daily routines of these people. Through their camera lenses, they offer others a touchingly intimate view of a unique lifestyle seldom experienced by outsiders. In a foreword, former governor Ann Richards identifies the book as part of both the long photographic tradition in Texas and the tradition of cultural and religious diversity in the state. Mark L. Louden’s introduction provides the historical backgrounds of Mennonites in Europe, their core beliefs, and their development into branches in North America. Dennis Carlyle Darling offers insightful comments on the photography that allows an intimate, respectful view of the people, their lifestyle, and their culture.

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Moss Bluff Rebel

A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War

By Philip Caudill

So wrote Texas pioneer cattle drover William Berry Duncan in his March 1862 diary entry, the day he joined the Confederate Army. Despite his misgivings, Duncan left his prosperous business to lead neighbors and fellow volunteers as commanding officer of cavalry Company F of Spaight’s Eleventh Battalion that later became the 21st Texas Infantry in America’s Civil War. Philip Caudill’s rich account, drawn from Duncan’s previously untapped diaries and letters written by candlelight on the Gulf Coast cattle trail to New Orleans, in Confederate Army camps, and on his southeast Texas farm after the war, reveals the personable Duncan as a man of steadfast integrity and extraordinary leadership. After the war, he returned to his home in Liberty County and battled for survival on the chaotic Reconstruction-era Texas frontier. Supplemented by archival records and complementary accounts, Moss Bluff Rebel paints a picture of everyday life for the Anglo-Texans who settled the Mexican land grants in the early nineteenth century and subsequently became citizens of the proudly independent Texas Republic. The carefully crafted narrative goes on to reveal the wartime emotions of a reluctant Confederate officer and his postwar struggles to reinvent the lifestyle he knew before the war, a way of life he sensed was lost forever. Moss Bluff Rebel will appeal to history lovers of all ages attracted to the drama of the Civil War period and the men and women who shaped the Texas frontier.    

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Mrs. Cordie's Soldier Son

A World War II Saga

By Rocky R. Miracle; Edited by M. Hunter Hayes; Foreword by Lewis H. Carlson

The story of D.C. Caughran Jr., Mrs. Cordie’s son, could be that of almost any soldier in World War II. He left the comfort of home and family to become part of one of the defining conflicts of modern times. The letters he wrote home tell his story from the day he received his draft notice in the summer of 1942 through battle, capture, wounding, imprisonment, and his eventual return home for recuperation and discharge. Author Rocky R. Miracle, the son-in-law of D.C. Caughran, tells not only Caughran’s story, but at the same time the story of “the home folks” who anxiously watched for letters from their “soldier boy” and wrote faithfully of their love and prayers for his safety. This home-front narrative also stands as an important and deeply personal record of life in wartime. Taken prisoner during the German breakout of December 1944 that led to the Battle of the Bulge, D.C. was force-marched past corpses lining the road into Germany, loaded with other American prisoners into boxcars, and held in a prison camp during the coldest European winter of the century. He suffered starvation rations and hepatitis and was hospitalized after his liberation, though doctors were doubtful that he would recover. However, with time and care, he returned to health, was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, and lived a long, productive life. This intimate portrait of an American family—at home and at war—during a time of world upheaval is at once heartwarming, sobering, and entertaining. Mrs. Cordie’s Soldier Son is highly recommended for readers interested in World War II, the POW experience, and home-front literature.

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Prairie Time

A Blackland Portrait

By Matt White; Foreword by James A. Grimshaw Jr.

In its most extensive prime, the Texas Blackland Prairie formed a twelve-million-acre grassy swath across the state from near San Antonio north to the Red River. Perhaps less than one tenth of one percent of this vast prairie remain—small patches tucked away here and there, once serving as hay meadows or sprouting from rock too stony to plow. Matt White’s connections with both prairie plants and prairie people are evident in the stories of discovery and inspiration he tells as he tracks the ever dwindling parcels of tallgrass prairie in northeast Texas. In his search, he stumbles upon some unexpected fragments of virgin land, as well as some remarkable tales of both destruction and stewardship. Helping us understand what a prairie is and how to appreciate its beauty and importance, White also increases our awareness of prairies, past and present, so that we might champion their survival in whatever small plots remain.

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Promised Land

Solms, Castro, and Sam Houston's Colonization Contracts

By Jefferson Morgenthaler

In 1842, Sam Houston, president of the new Texas Republic, wanted four things: peace with Mexico, peace with the native population, financing from Europe, and productive settlers for his vast, new country. He issued colonization contracts in an effort to meet all these objectives, but only two of President Houston’s contracts actually resulted in permanent settlement. Promised Land provides a close examination of the circumstances surrounding the colonization contract issued to Henri Castro of France and the contract assumed by Germany’s Adelsverein. 

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Reaping a Greater Harvest

African Americans, the Extension Service, and Rural Reform in Jim Crow Texas

By Debra A. Reid Ph.D

Jim Crow laws pervaded the south, reaching from the famous "separate yet equal" facilities to voting discrimination to the seats on buses. Agriculture, a key industry for those southern blacks trying to forge an independent existence, was not immune to the touch of racism, prejudice, and inequality. In Reaping a Greater Harvest, Debra Reid deftly spotlights the hierarchies of race, class, and gender within the extension service.

Black farmers were excluded from cooperative demonstration work in Texas until the Smith-Lever Agricultural Extension act in 1914. However, the resulting Negro Division included a complicated bureaucracy of African American agents who reported to white officials, were supervised by black administrators, and served black farmers. The now-measurable successes of these African American farmers exacerbated racial tensions and led to pressure on agents to maintain the status quo. The bureau that was meant to ensure equality instead became another tool for systematic discrimination and maintenance of the white-dominated southern landscape.

Historians of race, gender, and class have joined agricultural historians in roundly praising Reid's work.

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Texas Confederate, Reconstruction Governor

James Webb Throckmorton

By Kenneth Wayne Howell

Of the 174 delegates to the Texas convention on secession in 1861, only 8 voted against the motion to secede. James Webb Throckmorton of McKinney was one of them. Yet upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the Confederate Army and fought in a number of campaigns. At war’s end, his centrist position as a conservative Unionist ultimately won him election as governor. Still, his refusal to support the Fourteenth Amendment or to protect aggressively the rights and physical welfare of the freed slaves led to clashes with military officials and his removal from office in 1867. Throckmorton’s experiences reveal much about southern society and highlight the complexities of politics in Texas during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Because his life spans one of the most turbulent periods in Texas politics, Texas Confederate, Reconstruction Governor, the first book on Throckmorton in nearly seventy years, will provide new insights for anyone interested in the Antebellum era, the Civil War, and the troubled years of Reconstruction.

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Texas Woman of Letters, Karle Wilson Baker

By Sarah Ragland Jackson

Karle Wilson Baker was the best-known Texas poet of the early twentieth century. Yet, while many of her male contemporaries remain well known to Texas literature, she is not. Her energy and significant role in shaping the literature of Texas equaled those of Walter Prescott Webb or J. Frank Dobie, with whom she ranked as the first Fellows of the Texas Institute of Letters. Her modern lifestyle as an independent, “new” woman and her active career as a writer, teacher, and lecturer placed her among the avant-garde of women in the nation, although she lived in the small town of Nacogdoches. She was a multi-talented writer with a wide range of interests, yet she championed Texas and the history and natural beauty of East Texas above all else. Sarah R. Jackson’s thoroughly researched biography of Karle Wilson Baker introduces her to a new generation. Baker’s life also opens a window onto the literary times in which she lived and particularly the path of a woman making her way in the largely male-dominated world of nationally acclaimed writers. Beyond the literary insights this book offers, Jackson spotlights developments in East Texas such as the discovery of oil and the founding of what would become Stephen F. Austin State University in Baker’s hometown. Extensive work in a number of regional and state archives and interviews with many who remembered Baker allow Jackson to offer an account that is not only thorough but also lively and entertaining.

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