The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

find this monograph refreshing and insightful; a necessary read for historians
studying the nineteenth century.
Catholzc University CLAYTON E. JEWETT
Cullen Montgomery Baker: Reconstruction Desperado. By Barry A. Crouch and Donaly
E. Brice. (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University, 1997. Pp.
xvii+19o. Acknowledgments, abbreviations, introduction, maps, halftones,
conclusion, essay on sources, index. ISBN 0-8071-2140-1. $34.95, cloth).
One cannot help but think a word is missing from the title of this intriguing
little biography, something like Debunked or Demythologized. Over a dozen Baker
biographies have been published since 1870-not to mention a Louis L'Amour
novel about the outlaw-but Crouch and Brice have written the most evenhand-
ed and best researched one to date. More than that, their narrative includes a
patient and relentless critique of previous biographies, which have perpetuated
a wealth of legends, tales, and folklore about Baker's exploits in northeastern
Texas and southwestern Arkansas. Historians have generally portrayed him as a
colorful if deadly character in the mold of Jesse James or Billy the Kid. They
have called him the "Swamp Fox of the Sulphur" (p. 6), the "most famous Texas
guerrilla" (p. 5), a champion of the Lost Cause, and originator of the quick
draw. Yet little of this is true, say Crouch and Brice, and those parts that are true
reveal not a Robin Hood or social avenger but a cowardly, alcoholic, back-shoot-
ing sociopath.
Born in Tennessee and raised in Cass County, Texas, Baker murdered his first
man in 1854, at age nineteen, but not until the Civil War did he acquire a taste
for killing. While claiming to be a loyal Confederate, Baker led a gang of bush-
whackers that robbed, murdered, raped, and pillaged with little concern for the
political loyalties of their victims. After the war, the self-styled rebel turned his ire
against perceived enemies of the prostrate South-freedmen, carpetbaggers, fed-
eral troops, and Freedmen's Bureau agents-until meeting his own violent death
in January 1869. Yet Crouch and Brice insist that Baker never thought of himself
as a defender of the South or southern institutions. He worked mostly as a hired
gun, killing in the employ of white Texans (mostly in Lamar, Red River, and Titus
Counties) who were determined to maintain the antebellum political, social, and
racial order, and he held personal grudges against many of his white victims.
This is a sparkling piece of historical detective work. With few reliable primary
sources available to them-and nothing written by the desperado himself-the
authors have tested, weighed, and verified every fiber of Baker's elusive life in or-
der to assemble the few known facts and penetrate the layers of legend. To be
sure, they occasionally stumble in their zeal to destroy myths and identify myth-
makers. They can be mildly pedantic, and they are frequently repetitious, espe-
cially when reminding readers that Baker's actions must be judged in the
context of a new historiographical view of Reconstruction. They can also be
vague and contradictory, as when identifying Baker as the man who murdered
Freedmen's Bureau agent William G. Kirkman, even though Kirkman died in a

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/. Accessed December 25, 2014.