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Search for "Brazos": The Mystery Writer of Life of Robert Hall

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 116, Number 4, April 2013
pp. 387-391 | 10.1353/swh.2013.0050

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Robert Hall. Photo courtesy of Sherry Mauldin.

The true identity of "Brazos," the author of Life of Robert Hall, has been a mystery for generations. The book was originally printed in1898 by Ben C. Jones and Company and reprinted in 1992 by State House Press with a new introduction by historian Stephen L. Hardin. Life of Robert Hall is an enjoyable read about a pioneer and Texas Ranger who came to the future Lone Star State in the spring of 1836 and lived there until his death in 1899. The book has been quoted by numerous authors and historians for its accurate accounts of battles and range life. The original 1898 version is exceptionally rare and much sought after by book collectors. At the release of the 1992 printing there were only three known original 1898 copies. Since then a few more books have appeared; six that are available to view publicly and several that are privately held. However, none of these books or other sources has correctly identified the author.

The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History (DBCAH) at the University of Texas at Austin has a 1967 letter from Harry Williamson, a grand nephew of Robert Hall, which states that Hall's book "is in reality an autobiography of my Uncle Bob." This is the most common and the most-printed belief about the author's identity, but the book itself undermines the theory that Hall actually wrote the text. In the introduction to Life of Robert Hall, Brazos states that age had made Hall "very deaf" and that communication was difficult. If Hall had written the book himself, deafness would not have been an issue. Also, at the beginning of Chapter 24, Hall stated, "I will close this book with a chapter of recollections of matters that have escaped me while dictating the book." Clearly, there was a writer involved. It is also clear from letters that Hall wrote to Sam Houston and to the Texas Veterans Association that he lacked the writing ability of an author like Brazos. Nevertheless, the incorrect information that the Life was an autobiography written by Hall has been repeated like a bad rumor in multiple publications and on web sites.

There are several instances where one Robert L. Miller is noted as the author of Life of Robert Hall. For example, the bibliography for the entry on Hall in the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas Online cites Miller as the author. The University of Texas at Brownsville helped shine a light on this mistake. Their original copy of the book has "Robert L. Miller" handwritten on the first page and the initials "RLM" just above the introduction. In no way is the name implying that Miller was "Brazos." Instead, the owner simply labeled the book as his own.

The book has also been attributed to an author named McBride. An 1898 copy of Life of Robert Hall at the DBCAH has the following notation; "Brazos is said to have been a man by the name of McBride who stayed around Cotulla for some time." Although this is a good lead, and there were some families named McBride near Cotulla, a careful search found no writer and no Brazos in that area.

Another suggestion supposes that Brazos may have been a family member. However, a thorough search of Hall's family does not reveal a Brazos or even a writer. Moreover, if a relative wrote the book, why would he conceal his identity? One would think that a relative would have bragged about the opportunity to write about "Uncle Bob," and this would have been commonly shared family information. Descendants confirm that they also do not know Brazos's identity.

Finally, the mystery of authorship of Life of Robert Hall can be solved by using one small bit of information provided by the author and one newspaper clipping. Brazos stated in the book's introduction: "I do not claim any literary merit for this book. It was written at a time when I was in very bad health. Cotulla, Texas, March 1, 1898. BRAZOS." Only a few weeks earlier, the Caldwell News-Chronicle, published in...

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