Gary Cartwright's Galveston: A
History of the Island
WILL WILSON, SR.*
IN Galveston: A History of the Island (NEW YORK: ATHENEUM, 1991),
Gary Cartwright portrays an intriguing cross section of Texas history.
He chronicles. a place separated by water from Texas-an island. Some-
one has said that Europe is not just a continent but a continent with an
offshore island called Britain, and this fact has made a great difference
in the history of Europe. Likewise, the island of Galveston has made a
great difference in the history of Texas. Cartwright probes and identifies
this influence. Galveston Island has been occupied, improved, and
abused by many colorful individuals who together created the Free State
of Galveston. In this book, the wars, the storms, the ambitions, the
hopes, the frustrations of generations wash across Galveston Island.
Cartwright's book appears to be an able history of the island, but his
chapter on gambling in Galveston is badly flawed. As attorney general of
Texas in the 1950s, I shut down gambling there, yet Cartwright never in-
The first ten chapters deal with the feeble efforts of colonial Spain,
the Mexican land development carried out through Stephen F. Austin,
the Texas Revolution, the Republic and annexation, and the Confedera-
cy and the Civil War. Cartwright depicts real people: rowdy, greed-dri-
ven, brave, bad, and good, sometimes fleeing their past, all riding a tidal
wave of nationalistic expansion and cultural conflict. They turned a
wilderness island into a city like none other in Texas. I recommend
these chapters for insights into the roots of modern Texas.
Through the fog of 100oo years you can see three great fortunes emerg-
ing and growing beyond the best hopes of the founders. Right along
* TSHA member Will Wilson, Sr., is a former district attorney in Dallas, former associate jus-
tice of the Texas Supreme Court, former attorney general of Texas, and former chief of the
Criminal Division of the United States Justice Department.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/. Accessed March 14, 2014.