- Still the Arena of Civil War: Violence and Turmoil in Reconstruction Texas, 1865-1874
"Texas was unique among the southern states during the post-Civil War years," writes Kenneth W. Howell in the preface to his edited volume, Still the Arena of Civil War. White southern efforts to enforce dominance over former slaves, white Unionists, Indians, and Tejanos across the sprawling geography of the state, he claims, "served to make Texas the most violent place in all the former Confederate states" (ix). In his detailed introduction, Howell provides an informative overview of the historiography of Reconstruction-era violence in the Lone Star State and in the South generally from the influential work of William A. Dunning at the turn of the last century to the more recent work of George Rable, Allen Trelease, Barry Crouch, and Gregg Cantrell.
The volume is organized into four sections. The first, entitled "Representatives of Change," examines the roles of soldiers, bureau agents, and law enforcement officials in attempting to check the endemic violence. The second, "The Insurgents and Their Allies," addresses the representatives of violent white reaction, including terrorist guerilla organizations, leading white politicians, and newspaper editors. The third section, "The Victims," focuses on the experiences of those inhabitants who suffered at the hands of white guerillas. The final section, entitled "Regional Perspectives," evaluates the geographical particularity of the violence.
Carl H. Moneyhon provides an insightful analysis of the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan. "As to its accomplishments, the Klan of 1868 contributed to the legacy of violence that helped to define the history of Reconstruction in Texas," notes Moneyhon (261). "It existed, however, only for a short time and achieved none of the political goals that its creators sought; in fact its existence helped ensure Texans would not get to vote in the presidential elections" (261). In his contribution, Andrés Tijerina illustrates that "scores of Anglo-Texan vigilantes in the 1870s raided Tejano homes and ranches, killing, lynching, and driving them out of Texas" (305). The violence endured by these victims, he adds, "represented a continuation of a struggle that predated the Civil War by more than twenty-five years - a dispute between Hispanics and Anglos over land titles" (305). In another perceptive article, Rebecca A. Kosary examines the sexual violence perpetrated against black women by white men. "Black women," she writes, "not only had to suffer through their own experience of rape, but many endured the additional trauma of knowing their own daughters were similarly abused" (342).
Although the volume seeks to broaden the discussion of Reconstruction violence through the incorporation of conflict between whites, on the one hand, and Tejanos and Indians on the other, it remains overwhelmingly focused on the more traditional issues of white-on-black and Union-Confederate cleavages. As a [End Page 333] result of this focus, it situates Texas unambiguously within a southern rather than a western tradition, an assumption to which some Texas historians might object. In addition, Still the Arena of Civil War reads largely as local history and does not, therefore, make a significant contribution to the larger theoretical debates within the discipline. Nonetheless, it will be welcomed by anyone interested in the history of the Lone Star State.