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  • Prairie Gothic: The Story of a West Texas Family
  • Frederick W. Rathjen
Prairie Gothic: The Story of a West Texas Family. By EricksonJohn R.. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2005. Pp. xv + 208. Illustrations, foreword, preface, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 978-1-5744-200-0. $40.00, cloth.)

John Erickson dedicates Prairie Gothic to his mother, Anna Beth Curry Erickson, the daughter of Mable Clair Sherman, who cherished fine language, excelled as a [End Page 420] teller of stories, and enthralled her young son with stories taken from the Old Testament and from the family's past. Perhaps from this maternal influence Erickson also came to cherish the written word and, as a fine storyteller in his own right, bestowed celebrity upon a cow dog named Hank.

The Sherman story starts with Erickson's great-great grandparents, Ezra and Martha Sherman, who came to Texas from Illinois. In 1860 the couple lived near the Parker–Palo Pinto county line, indeed a vulnerable place. Vulnerability overwhelmed them when a band of roving, raiding Comanches invaded their home, seized Mrs. Sherman, and subjected her to brutal abuse and a grisly death in the presence of her two-year-old son, Joseph (Joe) Sherman. Surely this traumatizing experience conditioned his adult traits and he emerges as a complex person and the most interesting of all Shermans, although there is true competition for that distinction.

The next four generations made their way to the southern High Plains ranging as far north as present Lubbock. But Gaines and surrounding counties and contiguous areas of New Mexico became the Sherman home range with the town of Seminole being a sort of family headquarters. Most became well-known, respected rancher-citizens.

Through twenty-five chapters, individual Shermans and several spouses get brief biographies, as do other persons, most of them respectable and a few not so (the Quakers at Estacado vs. the good-man, bad-man, Tom Ross), whose trails crossed Sherman ones. Important events are summarized as are visits with individuals important to Erickson, i.e., J. Evetts Haley and John Graves, both of whom he called upon with little notice, but was received courteously (although initially suspiciously by one) and with whom he conferred at considerable length.

Erickson well understands that family history does not exist in a vacuum and therefore builds a stage from West Texas history for Sherman family history largely through commonly known secondary works. Family history comes from his interviews of and letters from relatives, research done by other family members that they generously shared, and painstaking research in Texas archival collections to find and verify uncertain elements of the story. Balance between riverbed and mainstream is even-handed and proper proportion maintained.

Virtually any family history must be a labor of love and affection for his family clearly motivates John Erickson, but as the story unfolds, "negatives" turn up as one would expect, but to his credit Erickson neither eulogizes the virtuous nor hedges on the not-so-virtuous.

The Sherman family's five-generation trek from Illinois to the southern High Plains of Texas must be similar to that of many others who made similar journeys because, as Elmer Kelton says in his perceptive foreword, "At some level, the human condition is universal." So anyone interested in the human dimension of westward migration in Texas will find Prairie Gothic a rewarding book. Similarly, local historians and simply inquisitive citizens of Gaines County and the southern High Plains will find Prairie Gothic both a model for those who wish to be historians of their home turf and satisfying to the inquisitive.

Frederick W. Rathjen
West Texas A&M University, Emeritus


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