- Archie P. McDonald: A Life in Texas History ed. by Dan K. Utley
Countless individuals in East Texas and beyond knew, worked with, and admired Archie McDonald (1935–2012). This volume of autobiographical stories, compiled and edited from oral history interviews conducted by friend and colleague Dan K. Utley, brings McDonald’s unique voice back to us, and that is quite a gift.
Born during the Great Depression in the East Texas oil town of Beaumont, McDonald tells of his close, loving family and their profound influence on his life. Talking about his parents, he begins to detail their early life together and then catches himself, saying, “Let’s get them married first so you won’t think badly of my background” (16). True Archie McDonald humor. His reminiscences offer a glimpse into the myriad people and events that shaped his early life, including the strong women who guided him, the tragic loss of his father when he was only eight years old, and the later addition to his family of his beloved stepfather. He speaks in detail of his boyhood and his education, crediting both his love of family stories and the influence of his seventh-grade history teacher in setting him on the path to become a history teacher.
McDonald began his university education at Lamar College, earned a [End Page 94] master’s degree at Rice University, and went to Louisiana State University for his Ph.D., specializing in Civil War history. Following a brief sojourn on the history faculty at Murray State University in Kentucky, he and his wife Judy and their infant son relocated to Nacogdoches, where he joined the faculty at Stephen F. Austin State University. The move proved to be a permanent one, and within a short time he was a prominent, valued member of the community as well as the embodiment of East Texas history.
In addition to conveying the story of Archie McDonald’s personal life and career, this book also serves as a capsule institutional history of the East Texas Historical Association (ETHA), the organization he led for thirty-seven years and with which he is most closely associated. He begins by addressing the question, “What is East Texas?” He then explains that what sounds like a simple question is, in fact, a complicated one. It is a question that McDonald spent many years exploring, along with hundreds of ETHA members who became not only his colleagues but his friends. The East Texas forests were part of his soul. Talking of his family heritage, he said, “that was East Texas to us . . . pine trees . . . ‘tight eye’ country it is called sometimes . . . meaning you can’t really see through it very far.”(3). His humor again comes through as he relates the story of friends from “over there” who drove to Nacogdoches. “They just thought those trees were going to get out in the road with them, because they had come from Amarillo, where you have to hunt a long time for a tree and you have to water it when you find it” (4).
The oral history also reflects the inside story of the ETHA, with McDonald explaining how it grew from essentially a one-man operation to one with a varied cast of members and officers who worked to make it part of “a broader historical community” in collaboration with similar organizations throughout Texas (77). Utley has done a masterful job of editing what was a series of two-person conversations into a unified story told in one voice. As he states in his introduction, McDonald “was always witty, supportive, fair, charming, and insightful. He could also be irascible and cantankerous, but in the good sense of a true Texas character.”