The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

LBJ's Texas White House: "Our Heart's Home." By Hal K. Rothman. (College Sta-
tion: Texas A&M University Press, 2oo001. Pp. ix+300. Illustrations, acknowl-
edgments, notes, index. ISBN 1-58544-141-4. $24.95, cloth.)
The "Johnson style," a uniquely American character with a clearly identifiable
Texas image, emanated from the Texas Hill Country and the Johnson family
ranch on the banks of the clear waters of the Pedernales River. Hal Rothman de-
termined that the Texas president's ranch, named by Lady Bird Johnson as "our
heart's home" (p. 5), embodied more than its brief notoriety as the Texas White
House during the Johnson presidency. The ranch symbolized what people in the
nation and throughout the world came to believe about Texas and LBJ. The
ranch reflected the character, ideas, and abilities of its owners and the American
people. The landmark stood as a window to the rest of the world into a culture
that is both historic and fictional, solidifying the western image for its owners
and the rest of the state.
In this study, Rothman looked at the influence of the Johnson ranch on its
owners and the larger role it played in contemporary culture. In the years in
which he dominated the American political scene, the ranch became known as a
haven and a place of rejuvenation for LBJ. But Rothman convincingly demon-
strates that the ranch meant much more than barbecues, deer hunts, and a
place for the powerful to convene. The Texas White House formed the "double-
edged promise" (p. 7). When viewed together, the ranch and LBJ merge to form
a lasting image of Texas power and endurance, substantiating the myth of
rugged individualism, cowboy philosophy and frontier images. It also served as a
symbol ofJohnson's rise to power as a national figure.
Rothman begins his study with a brief overview and critique of Johnson's as-
cendancy to political power as viewed by Robert Dallek, Robert Caro, Paul
Conkin, and others. The purchase of the Martin ranch in 1951 served as a link
to Johnson's past and his future aspirations. Acquiring the property and the
original house built in the 189os, Johnson re-established his family's presence in
the Hill Country and also substantiated his role as a man of means in the class
conscious U.S. Senate.
During his years as majority leader in the U.S. Senate, Rothman argued
"the most prominent feature of Johnson's majority leadership was the way in
which he held the political center" (p. 78). With an eye on the White House
in 1960, Johnson departed from the southern block on civil rights legislation.
This departure signified his pragmatic approach, which Rothman believed
that Johnson expressed in his entire public persona. "With the ranch to prove
his credentials, he made himself into a national figure based in western myth"
(p. 80).
After the Kennedy-Johnson ticket narrowly won the 1960 election, the vice-
presidency transformed the LBJ Ranch into an international destination. Begin-
ning with a visit by Bashir Ahmed, a Pakistani camel driver who met Johnson in
an unplanned encounter during an official state visit, the Texas ranch became
a focal point for foreign visitors. Johnson's ranch attracted heads of state and
ordinary citizens like Ahmed. The ranch symbolized the "real America" and

January

500

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed August 1, 2014.