Southwestern Historical Quarterly
I Would Rather Sleep in Texas: A History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the People
of the Santa Anita Land Grant. By Mary Margaret McAllen Amberson, James
A. McAllen, and Margaret H. McAllen. (Austin: Texas State Historical
Association, 2003. Pp. xii+655. Acknowledgments, foreword, illustrations,
epilogue, appendices, notes, selected bibliography, index. ISBN 0-87611-
186-x. $39.95, cloth.)
The subtitle of Mary Margaret McAllen Amberson's book may be an under-
statement. It is not simply a history, but could be considered "the" history of the
region. Indeed, the book is a tour de force of the development of the Lower Rio
Grande Valley and the Santa Anita land grant.
Amberson's narrative begins when Don Jose Manuel G6mez officially
received the Santa Anita grant in the Wild Horse Desert. The story closes
almost two hundred years later in 1980, when the Texas Department of
Agriculture included the McAllen Ranch in the Family Land Heritage Program,
a distinction reserved for family farms and ranches in continuous operation for
a century or more. The McAllen Ranch was the oldest entry at the time. Today,
the ranch is an incorporated business specializing in Beefmaster bulls with its
own attractively designed web site: www.mcallenranch.com.
One of the pleasant distinctions of the book is that it is not traditional family
history. There are no long lists of family genealogy. Neither is it a 'junior league"
directory of great families of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The book is a solid
history of the region and place of the Santa Anita within that history. At the same
time, the narrative is a family history. Amberson traces her family from G6mez to
the Ballis, the Youngs, and McAllens. At times, the story takes on an almost epic
quality, especially when discussing the Cortina wars and the Civil War, and the
cast of characters includes Richard King, Mifflin Kenedy, Juan Nepomuceno
Cortina, John S. "Rip" Ford, Charles Stillman, Jim Wells, and the Texas Rangers.
Yet, the narrative returns to the history of the ranch and the family, which in
many respects is more satisfying than the well-known history of the region.
Another notable aspect is the development of the historical record. The
book is built upon a quarter century of research begun by Amberson's grand-
mother, Margaret H. McAllen, who was a member of the Texas Historical
Commission and the Texas State Historical Association. The project passed to
her son, James A. McAllen, and finally to Amberson, his daughter and a gradu-
ate of the University of Texas who studied history and anthropology. The
work, however, also bears the mark of other historians, including Jerry
Thompson and Felix Almarsiz.
The authors' breadth of research is impressive, and the book's appendices,
which include a lexicon of ranching terms and listing of Santa Anita brands, is a
handy reference for students of ranching history. Anyone interested in Texas
history, the American West, and certainly South Texas social history will want to
add it to his or her library. At more than five hundred pages, the book is long,
but it may well become the standard reference on the region's history.
GENE B. PREUSS
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed September 18, 2014.