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By and large, conventional Texas history is that of unabashed overstatement. Replete with shoot-em-up adventure tales, moralism, racism, and frontier romanticism passed down by generations of historians, it is above all else a history that never really transcends the 19th century. As a result, it is more myth than history a whole body of proof for the proposition that history, as Carlyle said, is the distillation of rumor. T. R. Fehrenbach has written that “the great difference between Texas and every other American state in the twentieth century was that Texas had a history. Other American regions merely had records of development.” One can almost see the sneer on the printed page. All chauvinism aside, a good case can be made for some measure of uniqueness, and Texans have cherished it. But haven’t we all, at some time, wondered whether Texas historians have always, well, told the whole truth? The answer is that they haven’t, though that’s a bad way of putting it. For historians never tell the whole truth; they select, choose, and interpret. The “truth” they present is never “whole” it is always a reflection of the historian’s culture, time, and values, not to mention his neuroses. This is as true for Texas history as any other, though few chroniclers of modern Texas have come to grips with that fact. Historians have built on each other’s work, and Texas history has grown by accretion. But the bottom layers have never been subjected to the cleansing acids of skepticism. The two most hoary and enduring fixations of Texas history are the Revolution of 1836 and the Cowboy. Both are written about and idealized by writers with peculiar motivations; yet those motivations and the generalizations they inspired have gone mostly unquestioned. The very first Texas histories, for example, were more promotional than historical. Writers like Mary Austin Holley Kennedy, and Henry S. Foote liberally mixed the genres of travel narrative and advertising with history to create a kind of boosterism in historical disguise. They painted glowing word pictures of the terrain and climate and sought to capitalize on the excitement of the times. Holley, for example, described a “model Indian fight” whatever that is involving James Bowie, a story that found its way into several later narratives. Revolution In treating the 1836 Revolution, Holley, Foote, and Kennedy were unambivalent. None of the three were Texans, but each was very concerned with vindicating the Texans’ right to the land. The reason was simple they weren’t so much describing a movement for regional independence as they were defending the racial principle of AngloAmerican expansion. The early historians unleashed such a torrent of abuse on 19th century Mexico that our history still swims in it. The universal contrast was between the morally upright, industrious, Anglo, portender of civilization who cared nought but for human liberty and constitutionalism and the debased, fanatical, barbarous, “monkish” Spaniards whose tyranny had left the Mexicans unfit to govern themselves or anyone else. Foote described the Mexico of the 1830’s as only a romantic historian the foulest and most fiendish passions which are permitted to set up their hellish domination in the human heart were rioting in unchecked wantonness.” Having traced Spanish degeneracy back to the Inquisition, Foote traced the Texan superiority to the English Reformation. Providence and Anglo-Saxon destiny guaranteed that Texas would be free. For Kennedy, the whole question was one of progress. “In a few years,” he wrote, “where the short sharp crack of the out-settler’s rifle startled the silence of the forest, the voice of Christian worship is heard in the language of Old England; institutions kindred to our own predominate . . . and a fresh accession is made to the extending empire of morality and knowledge.” You get the picture. Such writing was hardly history so much as a literature of vindication by principals not far removed, but it was the foundation on which subsequent writers built a history. We’ve gone a little way beyond such simple dichotomies but not far. If you doubt it, find a program that the Texas State Library and Archives put together in 1979 for a commemorative exhibit on Texas Independence Day. There you’ll find the same treacherous Mexicans of the 1830’s and a constitutional revolution in a direct line with the American and French revolts. In modern popular Texas history, constitutionalism has largely taken the place of Anglo-Saxon destiny, the idea being that if one talks long and loud enough about the Mexican constitution of 1824 he is absolved from discussing any other cause of the Texas Revolution. Similarly, the virulence of the seventh-grade textbooks \(Texas history been muted since the days of the old “Texas History Movies” cartoon books, though one current text does summarize that Spain “did little except bathe the soil in blood.” The oddest thing about the texts now is the sense that the Mexican government had no right at all to try to keep Texas or to govern the province under Mexican terms. Of course, the Alamo and San Jacinto are laboriously treated and there is a pervasive feeling that Texas history has been all downhill since the 1830’s. “The Republic of Texas!” one text effuses. “Even the name has the ring of drama and excitement.” The early jingoism of Holley, Kennedy and Foote was carried on in a lively way in the 1850’s by Texas’ first major native historian, Henderson K. Yoakum. An associate of Sam Houston, Yoakum drew heavily on Foote and Kennedy in writing a volume that was the recognized history of Texas until the end of the 19th century. While he went beyond his predecessors in his concern for documents and sources, Yoakum essentially adopted their moral and analytical framework about the Revolution and Texas’ westward growth. “The soil belongs to those who know the use of it,” he wrote to Martin Van Buren in 1845, and further stated that native populations must give way before the Christian, Anglo-American farmer. \(This is a sophisticated variant, you may have guessed, of the aphorism that the only Larry McMurtry, a Texas novelist, has said that Texas never had an unsentimental historian. Actually, Herbert Bolton was capable in 1915 of referring to Texas as “one of the most important of Mexico’s northernmost provinces.” Alas, the exception was not the rule. Cowboys Where historians weren’t bending over backwards defending the wresting of Tejas from Mexico, they were vaulting forward to cling to the saddles of the original Type A Hero, the Cowboy. By the time of the Centennial in 1936, the cowboy cult was in full swing. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with that Texas did, after all, have cowboys. The problem lies in what the frontier inhabited by the cowboys meant to certain writers and historians. The worst offender, in many ways, was J. Frank Dobie. \(I know no one is supposed to criticize Dobie in Texas but I’ve lived here all my life and by God I’ve Webb are justly considered the most eminent men of Texas letters The Great Frontier is without question a THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11