- Texas Blood: Seven Generations among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands by Roger D. Hodge
The title of this book has a dual meaning: it alludes both to the deep roots of the author’s family in West Texas and to the violent history of the borderlands. The way of life that Roger Hodge knew during his childhood has disappeared, replaced by a militarized border and by the environmental and socioeconomic crisis that has followed in its wake. Hodge’s tone is elegiac. His book is part homage to his ancestors and part lamentation about the borderlands and the United States as a whole.
Hodge was born in Del Rio in 1967, into a family that had raised sheep and goats in Texas since the 1850s. He grew up working on family ranches and was especially attached to the ranch that his great-grandfather B. E. Wilson built in Juno, northwest of Del Rio on the Devils River. At Juno “I did my best to imagine what it would have been like to live out there at the end of the nineteenth century.” Like many places that Hodge knew as a child, Juno is “now just a name on a map, a spot on a perilous winding road, no longer a town” (14). The sense of loss extends to the more distant past. Near the family home, now in ruins, are vestiges of the rock art of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the borderlands for thousands of years before Euro-Americans arrived.
A journalist in New York who is a former editor of Harper’s Magazine, Hodge grew up expecting to be a rancher. He vividly describes the hardships and dangers of raising livestock and has a deep familiarity with the flora and fauna of the borderlands. As a member of the last generation of young people who moved easily back and forth across the border, he also has fond memories of adventures on the Mexican side.
The narrative follows Hodge driving on interstate highways and back roads retracing the route that his great-great-great-grandfather Perry Wilson took from Missouri to California in the 1850s. The journey inspires a series of reflections on the transformation of the American landscape in general and of the borderlands in particular.
The story that Hodge tells of the growth of the surveillance state, especially as manifested in Del Rio and Brownsville, is unsettling. He has a gift for winning the trust of his informants, including Ken Knight of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations. Knight built the Big Pipe, an attempt to “integrate and rationalize” the vast web of technologies with which the U.S. government polices the border (160). The military tactics that have been applied to border surveillance, he observes, “can be adapted for domestic application . . . It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the border itself was slowly expanding to fill the entire continent. Before long, we all may find ourselves inside the [End Page 132] Big Pipe” (192). Hodge compares the dream of total surveillance to the dream of independence that his ancestors and other pioneers brought to the untracked expanses of the nineteenth-century borderlands.
Texas Blood provides an excellent introduction to the chroniclers of the borderlands, from the famous (Washington Irving, Frederick Law Olmsted) to the lesser known (Samuel Chamberlain, George Wilkins Kendall), and devotes sustained attention to the violence of the frontier and to the depredations of men such as James Kirker, whose Hispanized surname (quirquismo) denoted “a war of extermination directed at the Apaches” (99). The quotations are extensive and well chosen, but it is often difficult to identify the sources (full citations should be included in future editions of the book). The author also offers a detailed appreciation of the work of Cormac McCarthy (whose vision of the borderlands has helped to shape his own) and reflects the influence of John Graves (especially Goodbye to a...