/Reading Jiterests ill Zeras front the
1830's to Ite Civil War
CARL C. WRIGHT
N 1840 an immigrant to Texas wrote, "That the Texians are
a reading people is manifested by the fact that there are
now 12 newspapers in the republic." In the late 'fifties
Frederick Law Olmsted, while on a journey through East Texas,
heard a Texan confess that he found reading "damn tiresome."
The sojourner, however, made a significant discovery on a Red
River plantation, where he saw three Natchitoches Chronicles,
a Patent Office Agricultural Report, Christie's Galvanic Almanac,
a Bible, and a novel by J. H. Ingraham, Lafitte: the Pirate of
the Gulf.2 This list seems fairly representative of the kind of
material readers demanded in the early years of statehood.
Since only impressionistic conclusions can be reached from
the available sources, little attention has been given to reading
interests in Texas during its formative period. It is often asserted
that although Texas had a number of educated immigrants,
floaters "with the bark on" inhabited most settlements, and that
the pioneers as a whole were too busy or too restless to improve
their intellectual life. Moreover the great stirrings in Texas were
not conducive to leisurely reading. This survey aims to show
that early Texans were a "reading people" but does not claim a
literary culture as their outstanding trait, or take the precarious
stand that reading interests served the "propriety of the Southern
ideal." The sources examined reflect broad and general reading
with an increased interest on popular and contemporary fiction
in the 'fifties. That these characteristics had no parallel in other
sections of the country is hardly conceivable, and it cannot be
said that Texans were unique in their reading habits.
Hundreds of books were brought to Texas; prominent citizens
in various communities owned libraries. Of course, many log
cabins on the frontier contained only the bare necessities of life,
1Anon. (By an Emigrant), Texas in z84o (New York, 1840), 217.
2Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas (New York, 1857), 48.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 54, July 1950 - April, 1951. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101133/. Accessed July 22, 2014.